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Nebraska Library Board Manual

 CHAPTER CONTENTS What Are Library Policies? The Purpose of Library Policies How Are Policies Developed? What Should Policies Include? Additional Resources

Library policy is essential for every library and for every library board regardless of the size of the community or the library. Of all board decisions, library policy decisions generally have the most frequent impact on the people of the community that the library board members represent. Policy affects nearly everything a library does, and policy making is one of the most important functions of an administrative library board.

   What Are Library Policies?

Policies are statements of underlying philosophies, definitions of library services, and rules for how the library operates. Policies reflect the priorities of the library and the expectations of the community. All policies are approved by the board. Policies are, in effect, the rules of the library and should not be confused with procedures, which are an administrative function and describe how things are done.

Policies state what the board, director, and staff think and do; they do not set out detailed courses of action. Policies provide the basis for procedures, which describe how activities are carried out. Procedures are developed by library staff and do not require board approval.

Policies are public documents. They should be available to the public and to the staff at all times, preferably by posting them on the library’s website.


   What Do Policies Do For the Library?

  • Reflect the library's mission and philosophy of service.
  • Guide the library director and staff in the implementation of board judgments.
  • Provide direction and consistency in day-to-day service to the community.
  • Reduce uninformed decision-making and crisis responses to problem situations.
  • Assure the public that library services will be provided in a fair and equitable manner.
  • Protect the rights of Customers and staff.
  • Provide the information that staff members need to do their job effectively.
  • Provide legal protection.

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   How Does the Board Develop Library Policy?

The library board is responsible for creating policies, reviewing and revising them, and ultimately enforcing them with the assistance of the library staff. Policymaking may be the most difficult job of the library board members, requiring a thorough understanding of the issues involved and careful consideration of the library's mission and of the community.

Because policies guide actions, it is important that they be in place when needed. The library board should not wait until the need for a policy creates pressure to act quickly. The best policy is developed calmly and thoughtfully, when there is a predictable probability that the library needs one in a specific area.

A process similar to the following will help develop good policy:
  1. Establish the Development Procedure: Having a (small) committee do the actual work will help to insure that more than one point of view is considered. This committee may include, as appropriate, board members, the library director, library staffer(s), and even outside subject experts (for example, a Website designer, or a maintenance engineer.)
  2. Investigate/Research: Having a (small) committee do the actual work will help to insure that more than one point of view is considered. This committee may include, as appropriate, board members, the library director, library staffer(s), and even outside subject experts (for example, a Website designer, or a maintenance engineer.)
    • Review the library's mission statement and long-range plan.
    • Consider the goals of the policy.
    • Assess community needs.
    • Consider local custom.
    • If there is existing policy, note where changes need to be made.
    • If there is no current policy, note how situations have been handled and decisions made so far.
    • Examine other libraries' policies.
  3. Write: Generally, one committee member will create a draft for the committee to review and revise. It is useful to cast the policy in two parts: first, the rationale or policy statement, which tells the goal of the policy, and why it exists, and second, the policy regulations, or the specific rules that need to be in place in order to enforce the policy.
    For example:
      “In order to ensure that all library users have the maximum opportunity to use materials, the Bookville Public Library Board of Trustees establishes that the loan periods for materials borrowed from the library will be determined by the library director. . . .”
    Here the rationale, the why of the policy, is stated and then the what, loan periods, is described.

    All policies should include a process by which the board can respond to public comments or complaints.

    Each policy should also include a statement of how often it is to be reviewed.

    The writing should be clear, brief and limited in the use of professional jargon.

    Policies of other libraries—many of them available on the Internet--may help provide suitable language.
  4. Discuss & Approve: The board as a whole should take time to review the draft and make suggested changes. This means that generally the draft policy is presented at one meeting, and the board votes on it at the next meeting. If board members have any changes, these changes can be incorporated into the policy before it is approved.
    The Library Board of Trustees needs to examine policies carefully before approving them. There are four questions the board needs to ask about every policy:
    1. Does the policy conform to current law? This is not just a matter of whether a policy is legal. If laws change, then policy may also have to change. Remember that the body of law includes not only legislation and regulation, but the history of judicial decisions as well. A Library Board may need legal advice on some of their policies. The next three questions will help to determine if policies conform to the law. Policies you suspect may conflict with local, state or federal laws or regulation should be reviewed by legal counsel.
    2. Is the policy reasonable? A policy may sound legal, but it could be successfully challenged in court if it is unreasonable. For example, most libraries have policies that spell out consequences for the non-return of borrowed materials. Restrictions on borrowing additional materials, payment for replacement of lost materials, or fines are typical consequences. It would be reasonable to suspend borrowing privileges until materials are returned; it would probably be unreasonable to bar offenders from the library forever.
    3. Can the policy be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner? Everyone should receive the same treatment—no special privileges for “good Customers,” or rules that are not enforced across the board. A policy, no matter how reasonable or legal, might be challenged if it is not applied equally to all.
    4. Is the enforcement of the policy measurable? A policy should describe specified or prohibited behaviors in terms that make determining whether behaviors conform an either-or matter. For example, if a circulation policy limits the number of items that may be checked out on a card at any one time, then it should specify a number. A library is inviting a challenge if the policy states that the number of items borrowed must be "reasonable." If staff must determine what "reasonable" means on a case-by-case basis, charges of favoritism or discrimination will soon follow. A policy against “disruptive” behavior might need to describe such behavior in terms of loudness or duration. The measurable parts of the policy are often the provisions in the regulations portion of the policy.
  5. Review: Review the policy as specified. Policies must be kept up-to-date in order to remain relevant and useful. Policy review also helps educate the staff and the governing body members about their roles and responsibilities in implementing the policy.
  6. Distribute: The approved policy should be readily available to the public. It should be distributed to the staff, and discussed with them, so that all know what the policy is and how it is to be implemented.

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   What Should Be Included In Library Policies?

Libraries are encouraged to have a policy manual which begins with general information including the history of the library, the mission or purpose of the library and the goals of the library, and any general statements of philosophy, such as the Freedom to Read Statement, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Core Values of Librarianship. This may be followed with the bylaws that govern the basic operations of the board, such as frequency of meetings, length of terms, officers, duties and powers, etc.

The kinds of specific policies are as varied as the many different aspects of library service. Every phase of library operation should be broadly covered by a policy and implemented through library procedures.

Your local needs will determine the content of your policy manual.

It is a good idea to categorize the library’s policies into internal (such as personnel, disaster planning, financial controls, etc.) and external (dealing with the public). The organization of the policy manual may be arranged to suit your library’s organizational structure. There are many good resources for policy development: some are listed below under “Additional Resources.”

Some policies deal with the relationship of the library to its users, the community, the local government, other libraries, volunteers, Friends group, foundation, etc. Here are a few examples of areas covered by this type of policy:
  • Public services.
  • Circulation and use of materials.
  • Availability and use of facilities.
  • Intellectual freedom.
  • Privacy.
Other policies deal with administrative practices. They may include, but are not limited to, areas such as these:
  • Finance and investing / purchasing.
  • Selection of materials / collection development.
  • Gifts / donations.
  • Personnel / evaluation.
  • Emergencies / disasters.
                       Common Policy Topics
Library Board:Circulation:
  • Bylaws
  • Board duties
  • Board appointments
  • Committees
  • Meetings
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Residency requirements
  • Borrowing privileges
  • Loan period and renewals
  • Overdue material, fees, and fines
  • Lost and damaged material
  • Reserving material
Public Services:Administrative:
  • Customer rights
  • Staff rights
  • Customer behavior
  • Unattended children
  • Complaints
  • Reference service
  • Confidentiality of Customer records
  • Internet use
  • Bylaws
  • Volunteers
  • Friends of the Library
  • Library Foundation
  • Personnel
  • Emergency and safety
  • Budget and finance
  • Continuing education and professional organizations
  • Gifts, memorials, and donations
  • Collection development and evaluation
  • Weeding
  • Challenges to material
  • Exhibits, displays and bulletin boards
  • Meeting rooms
For assistance in developing policies, or additional information and policy samples, contact your regional library system director or the Nebraska Library Commission.


   Additional Resources

Core Values of Librarianship
The Freedom to Read Statement
Library Bill of Rights
Nelson, Sandra S. Creating policies for results : from chaos to clarity. Chicago: American Library Association, c2003.
Pittman, Mignon G. 2010. "Developing a Public Library Policy Manual." PNLA Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 4: 21-27.
Sample Library Policies: Maine State Library

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created 2006; rev. 7/2015                                                        For more information, contact Holli Duggan

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