- Anticipate the need. Unfortunately, many library policies are a direct result of a problem or even a crisis rather than a result of careful planning and foresight. A better way to identify need for particular policies is to anticipate problems and write policies before the problems occur. Although each library board should develop its own policies, sometimes it is helpful to review policies from other libraries before getting started. Iowa Library Services has some links to library policies on its website, http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/ld
- Gather the facts. Most policies will grow out of recommendations from the library director. Your director is in touch with trends, problems and issues that require policies. Depending on the nature of the policy, you may want to seek legal counsel.
- Evaluate the proposed policy. Is it:
- Necessary or is the issue already covered in another policy?
- Consistent with the mission statement?
- Compatible with other policies?
- Consistent with local, state and federal law? Review the policy to determine whether any provisions would be illegal under Iowa or federal law. For example, a library policy of "no animals or pets allowed" must provide an exception for Seeing Eye dogs and other support animals.
- Practical, enforceable and affordable?
- Reasonable (including reasonable penalties)? Let's say a library board decides to set the library's hours as 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday." Although it would not be illegal to set such hours, a court could find the policy to be unreasonable because, in effect, it denies library access to citizens who work or go to school during the day. The library board should also examine proposed policies to determine if any penalties are unreasonable. For example, it would be reasonable for a "no skateboarding in the library" policy to include a "penalty" that violators would be asked to leave for the rest of the day. It would not be reasonable to penalize the skateboarding patrons by banning them from the library "for the rest of their lives."
- Measurable? It is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce a policy fairly if the policy and penalty are not quantifiable. Policies should be written clearly so that library board members, library staff, and library patrons can read a library policy and know what constitutes a "violation" of the policy. For example, if a library has a policy which states that patrons will lose their borrowing privileges if they have "too many overdue books for too long," the definitions of "too many" and "too long" are not clear and may result in unfair application when interpreted by different staff members. On the other hand, a quantifiable policy states that patrons will lose their borrowing privileges if they have "library material which has been overdue for three weeks or longer and if the patron has not returned the material or paid the replacement cost or made arrangements with the library for payment."
- Broad enough to cover the subject completely?
Finally, could there be discriminatory application of the policy? In order to be legally enforceable, library policies must be applied fairly to all patrons. Courts will invalidate library policies which are not applied equally to all patrons and are used to discriminate against certain groups of patrons. For example, a "no sleeping" policy might be enforced against homeless patrons but not against other patrons (such as the mayor) who drift off while reading in a comfy chair. Some libraries might have "no noise" policies which they enforce only against tables of giggling adolescents but never against tables of loud-speaking adults.
Write the policy. The actual wording of the policy is best left to the library director or a task force of board members and the director. The actual policy may come to the board and back to committee for revision several times before it’s finished.
Adopt the policy. Final approval of the written policy is a board responsibility.
Establish a schedule for policy review. Policies can become out of date. Regular review of board policies help keep them current and at the same time keep board members informed. The recommended way to review policies is to date every policy and revision to the policy and establish a review date. Then, make sure the board or a committee of the board examines each policy on or before that date and approves any changes. This makes it much less overwhelming.
When reviewing and rewriting existing policies, ask whether there is still a viable reason to have the policy in the first place. Some boards have eliminated long-standing policies which have outlived their original usefulness and have opted instead for a more positive image for the library in the community. These include policies such as overdue fines, rental fees, and restrictions of number of materials borrowed at one time.
Place the policies in one manual. The manual makes the process of learning board policy simpler for new board members and it makes application and interpretation of policies easier. A manual also makes the process of review and update of board policies much easier.
Make the policy manual available to the staff and the public at large. A paper copy of the policy manual should be available at the library; also put library policies on your website.