Policies and Procedures

Policies and Procedures

Policies are the tools used by the library board to convey power and authority to the library director and staff. Policies should generally be broad statements that provide direction, vision, and goals. Details of “how” the policy will be realized are procedures, and are generally devised by the library staff.

The distinction between policy and procedure is important because policies need to be approved by the board, while procedures do not.

For example, it would be a waste of board time for the governing entity to be considering the procedure for deciding which paper to purchase for the copier, and the next thing you know, that paper is no longer available and another kind of paper needs to be selected. It’s much more practical for library staff to be empowered to make that decision so the copier doesn’t languish without paper for weeks until the next board meeting, which surely would erupt into a contentious discussion about copier paper, while library patrons go wanting.

Likewise, it would be dysfunctional for library staff to decide they do not want to provide photocopy services rather than to deal with the vagaries of procuring paper, and to just eliminate the copier completely, thus usurping the role of the board to decide what services the library provides, and to ensure that community needs are met.

The trick is to find the line between what is policy and what is procedure. And that depends somewhat on your board and your tradition.

Policies are intended to provide guide and protect both library users and the staff. All policies are meant to address situations in which the library director or staff might be vulnerable, and that some are more so than others.

For instance: Intellectual freedom issues, book challenges, and other related topics can be very sensitive, and can put library staff in a delicate position. Well crafted policies lift that burden from staff, and place responsibility on the library board, where it rightly belongs, and that body can then take responsibility for ensuring the right thing is done. <This is not how I want to say this - I’m floundering a bit> For instance, it is sometimes asked by those challenging a material in a library “Who gave you the authority to add this to the collection.” A well crafted collection development policy spells that out.

Patron conduct and behavior is another sensitive area. Imagine a patron saying “Who gave you the authority to have me removed from this facility?” If your policy is written, it can be pointed to as the authorization.

Of course, any matter that requires a policy for guidance can be a flashpoint, so it is important that policies are thoughtful and well-written, and that they have full buy-in from the board. That way, if the policy has been followed, responsibility devolves to the board who is the body designated by statute 134 as being responsible for managing the library.

As a point of information, the board members need to be cognizant that when a policy is adopted by the board, ALL board members are to be supportive of that policy, even if they were in the minority when the policy was passed. It’s critical that a board be unified in support of library policy because any cracks may be exploited and it might cost someone who was acting in good conscience to lose their job. Differences are to be worked out in the board meeting, and once a decision is reached, all board members are expected to support that decision.

See Policy examples

Records Retention:

How long am I required to keep certain records?

Check with your City Manager to see if there are additional records the city may require to be kept - building plans are common, and there may be other records specific to your city

When records that are to be retained grow in volume enough, the Library Director should discuss the matter with the board and City Hall, and seek permission to transfer the materials to the State Archivist at the Minnesota Historical Society. By state law, they own the documents specified in the Records Retention schedules referenced above, and are responsible for preserving those records.

Minnesota MNHS Records Retention 

Who can answer questions on Policies at SELCO?

Executive Director (Krista Ross), Public Library Consultant (Steve Harsin)