Friday, April 3, 2015

Puzzles with All the Pieces - Library Policies

Have you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that the last few essential pieces are missing?  If so, then you must shop at some of the same thrift stores that I do.   But just as missing pieces can ruin the experience of putting a puzzle together, so will missing steps in the creation of your library's policies.  Actually, missing steps in your policy creation go far beyond the frustration caused by an incomplete jigsaw puzzle - they can result in very serious liability issues for your library and your municipality.

Wisconsin Statutes authorize the library board to establish both “external policies” (policies that determine how the library serves the public) and “internal policies” (policies that govern library board operations and library management).  The development of effective library policies is well covered in Chapter 10 of Trustee Essentials: a Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Trustees.

It is vital that library policies be able to withstand the four tests of a legally defensible policy:
  • Test #1 - Policies must comply with current statutes and case law.
  • Test #2 - Policies must be reasonable (and all penalties must be reasonable).
  • Test #3 - Policies must be clear (not ambiguous or vague).
  • Test #4 - Policies must be applied without discrimination.
Library policies are not static - they should reflect the needs of the community and the library - so regular review / revision of policies is essential.  Sample policies from a wide variety of Wisconsin libraries can be found at our Public Library Policy Resources page.  Here you'll also find a helpful overview of  library policy creation, perfect for sharing with library board members and other stakeholders: Trustee Training Module #2 - Development of Essential Policies for Public Libraries.

In addition to board-approved policies, many libraries find it helpful to create procedure manuals, especially for complex activities like the selection, ordering, and processing of new materials. Procedure manuals outline the steps necessary to accomplish various tasks and can be especially valuable to new staff.  Procedures must conform to the policies approved by the library board. While it's true that the library board is responsible for the entire administration of the library, your library will operate most effectively if the board delegates responsibility for the development of procedures and the day-to-day supervision of library operations to the library director.


Photo of jigsaw puzzle pieces
(Photo of jigsaw puzzle pieces courtesy of Pixabay)
Written by
Denise Anton Wright, Public Library Development