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Trustee Support Resources

How to Develop Library Policy

In the best of worlds, policy-making is proactive. Boards should try to anticipate areas of ambiguity where having policies in place in advance can avert hasty decision-making when emotions are running high.

The following steps will help in creating policies:

  1. Realize that a policy is needed
    • Has a customer service problem surfaced that could have been resolved with a policy?
    • Has the library director raised a concern with the board regarding an issue that needs clarification?
    • Have other libraries found it necessary to develop a new policy to deal with a particular issue?
    • Have national, regional, or statewide professional library associations recommended new policies for libraries?
  2. Gather the facts
    • Research policies of other libraries. There are many places to go where you can find examples of many different library policies covering a range of issues. Sample policies may be found at:
    • Make sure that the policy complies with best practices and professional standards.
    • Identify budget, staff, legal, and/or service impacts.
    • Describe options and how they might impact library operations.
    • Identify the long-term and short-term effect on the library and its customers.
    • Document how the policy supports the library’s vision and mission (e.g., adult literacy, community engagement, parenting and family skills, community health, etc.).
  3. Discuss the issue

    The impact of a proposed policy should be discussed in detail from many perspectives. How will it affect the entire community served by the library, library users of all ages, library staff, the library budget, and other resources? Policies can have far-reaching consequences. When discussing a proposed policy, consider whether it is:

    • Consistent with the library’s mission statement and long-range plans.
    • Consistent with other internal library policies.
    • Consistent with local, state, and federal laws (See Laws Affecting Libraries).
    • Necessary, practical, affordable, and fair to all affected.
    • Broad enough to cover the subject but stated clearly so staff can implement policy consistently.

    Note: The board is ultimately responsible for assuring that federal and state laws are reflected in library policies and procedures and that the constitutional rights of individuals are protected. It is always important for the board to keep up to date concerning judicial interpretations of the laws before taking any policy action based on them. Make sure that your library attorney understands the constitutional status of public libraries and consult with the attorney whenever policy is being developed or reviewed. The following resources may be of further assistance:

  4. Draft the initial policy statement for board discussion
    • The library director may be asked to write the draft policy statement—Tip: When drafting a policy, try out the Pierce County Library System’s Policy Style template, which can help to make the draft clear and concise.
    • The board:
      • Evaluates the draft policy—Note: Be sure to submit the draft policy for review by legal counsel to ensure that policy is in compliance with all local, state, and federal laws.
      • Revises the proposed policy until it clearly reflects the position of the board.
      • Invites public comment. Expect heated debate on controversial issues!

    Note: Public comment on policies should be expected because all board meetings are open to the public. (See Board Meetings for further information about laws that apply to library board meetings.)

  5. Adopt the policy
    • Policies must be approved by a majority vote of the board of trustees at a legally constituted board meeting—Note: Policies are rarely adopted in a single meeting. The board needs time to consider public comment and staff and legal counsel need to review a policy before adoption. If the board is advisory, final approval may be required from the governing authority. (For more information, see Library Trustees.)
    • After approval, recommended practice is to:
      • Identify each policy by a unique number.
      • Include the date of adoption and/or revision.
      • Add the new or revised document to the policy manual.
      • Provide an index and be sure to update it as policies are added, eliminated, etc.
      • Post key policies on the library’s Web site, including:
        • Eligibility for service.
        • Children’s access to materials.
        • Internet use.
        • Circulation of materials.

    Note: Library policies are public records and must be made available for review upon customer request as laid forth in RCW 42.56.070. (See Public Records for further information about laws that apply to public records.)

  6. Implement the policy
    • The library director implements the policy, assigning staff to develop operational procedures and action plans, if necessary.
    • Spread the word:
    • Put the new policy up on the library’s web site.
    • Train library staff and volunteers and provide them with copies.
    • Publicize any new policies that impact the use of the library and library services through activities such as:
      • Announcements.
      • Interviews with the media.
      • Use of social media.
      • Meetings with community stakeholders and others so they know and understand the rationale underlying the policy.

    Note: It is the responsibility of all trustees to support policies once the board adopts them. They must also support the staff because they will be the first to defend a policy after it is implemented, and challenges occur.

  7. Evaluate the policy

    The library director and staff monitor the policy, reporting to the board on the effectiveness of the policy or unexpected results.

    Tip: Run policies past new board members to see if they make sense to them.

  8. Review the policy on a regular basis

    Because they may be called upon to defend or interpret policies to the public or to authorities, it is essential that trustees establish a method to review library policies on a regular basis to make sure that they are clear, legal, consistent, and defensible. Policies are the bedrock upon which sound library management decisions are made, but they definitely are not carved in stone. Even new policies need to be reviewed to assure that they are functioning as intended.

    When it might be time for a change:

    • Introduction of new technology into the library.
    • New laws - federal, state, or local.
    • Changes in legislation.
    • Change in community demographics.
    • The policy is no longer relevant.
    • New library services or programming are being implemented.
    • When staff need to use the word “policy” when discussing it with the library’s customers.

    Tips for policy review:

    • Set a review date for each new policy - today’s electronic calendars make this easy.
    • Review a policy every month as a regular board agenda item.
    • Create a policy review committee responsible for reviewing policies.