Tips for Public Library Policy Development

Loveland Public Library
Loveland Public Library

This is a guest post contributed by Amber Greene, Division Manager, and Susan Kadlec, Board Member of the Loveland Public Library.

After completing a full update of outward-facing organizational policies in 2018, Loveland Public Library received approval from city council to implement some exciting changes. These included removing fines for overdue items and replacement fees for cards, adding new sections (Makerspace, Safe Space, Commitment to Freedom of Speech, and Programming), and removing over 1,000 words of procedure. Through this 9-month process, there were a few key factors that resulted in success. Read on for tips to make your policy development process run a little more smoothly.

  1. Identify stakeholders. Get the right voices at the table to make sure that you have objective input from key groups. This should include your library board, staff members from different roles in the organization and your legal representative. Board members provide critical perspective as representatives of the public and can positively guide the process from the start by keeping community needs foremost in mind.
  2. Start with goals. Figure out what you want your policy to do for you. Do you want to increase access? Support intellectual freedom? Reflect the work your staff is already doing (that your policy may be behind on)? Make your library safer? Get buy-in upfront by being clear about what you’re trying to achieve and why.
  3. Do your homework (and everyone else’s). Provide stakeholders with background information about the topics they’ll be asked to make decisions on. This should include your organization’s mission and values, existing policies and guiding principles. Also include sample policies for review, as well as research about existing trends and best practices.
  4. Get input throughout the process. We’re talking A LOT of input! Assign members of your group to report back to key decision makers such as your leadership team and library board. Get feedback from staff in their areas of expertise. Talk to your finance department about decisions that could impact your budget and security personnel about decisions that would change the way behavior expectations are enforced. The deeper the level of feedback, the stronger your policy will be!
  5. Check in with your legal representative. Get regular advice from your attorney to ensure that policies are lawful, enforceable, and up-to-date. Attorneys make sure that your policy says what you want it to say.
  6. Don’t forget to tell everyone! Once your policies are approved, be sure to share them. Train staff on implementation, let patrons know what they can expect and ensure that your board has a solid understanding to effectively uphold them. Board members may be asked to review a challenge to your library’s collection, for example, and benefit from the increased understanding and buy-in that comes from actively participating in the policy development process.

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your success. Policy is everyone’s job and is foundational to achieving your organization’s mission. Be sure to honor the hard work that goes into making your policy a dynamic, living document in support of your community’s needs.

Additional Resources

Crystal Schimpf