Reviewing Library Policies: An Important Step in Technology Planning

In a previous article, I shared resources to help you find data to be used for community assessment as part of technology planning. After your community assessment activities have helped you identify the needs in your service area, and you have used tools and resources to plan technology-related services to meet those needs, it’s time to look at your library’s policies.

Why policies are important

Public library policies provide consistency and uniformity in responses and services to customers, promoting the library’s belief in fairness and equality. Policies provide guidelines for new staff members and library users, protect the library from particular legal challenges, communicate codes of conduct expected of library users, and can state a desired level of performance by the library.   Because policies are approved by a library board, or a municipal or county governing body, there is a weight behind them that can serve as a buffer between the library and an irate patron. Public library policies can also communicate the library’s values and mission to the public. Policies on collection development and challenged materials, for example, illustrate that intellectual freedom is an important value. Internet policies can communicate the need to respect an individual’s privacy, while also stating the library’s adherence to federal filtering requirements.

Policies and technology

The Edge Initiative is a voluntary assessment program that includes benchmarks, best practices, tools and resources that support continuous improvement in technology services in public libraries. Edge gives libraries the flexibility to grow and plan for the future. It is important that library policies keep up to date as public technology access services grow in the coming years. New information delivery systems will challenge libraries to develop workable policies that incorporate technology services, while also affirming the library’s important democratic and educational missions within the community. Making the changes recommended by Edge can necessitate policy changes. Let’s look at examples of how policies can be impacted as libraries work to incorporate Library Edge recommendations....

Scenario 1

Following their assessments and strategic planning activities, Dickinson Public Library is committed to helping patrons improve their digital literacy skills, and to improving services to citizens who increasingly connect with the library through their personal portable devices (laptops, eReaders, smartphones, etc.)  The library will focus on Library Edge Benchmark 1 for improvement, but finds it must address some policy issues when trying to meet their targeted attributes in Benchmark 1.2, which states, "The library provides individual assistance for digital literacy at all outlets":

  • One-on-one help is available on-demand for at least 10-minute sessions
  • One-on-one help is available by appointment for at least 30-minute sessions
  • One-on-one help is available for patron-owned devices 

To help meet the benchmark, the library establishes a policy communicating the staff’s availability to provide one-on-one assistance, and to advertise the availability of 30-minute sessions by appointment should patrons require additional time with staff. 

The library also identifies a problem policy that would make it impossible to meet the third attribute. Their policy stated, "The library cannot assist you with your personal devices. The library cannot accept the liability of handling your equipment."  A new policy is established that allows patrons to sign a written permission form, releasing the library from liability, and giving the staff permission to help with personal devices.

Some technology changes will not require a change to a library's public policy, but will impact internal policies and procuedures instead. For example, to help fulfill its mission to improve digital literacy skills in the community, Dickinson Public Library is also committed to improving its results under Benchmark 8: Libraries have sufficient staff with technology expertise to help patrons achieve their goals. The activities to meet Benchmark 8—staff training, competency evaluations, hands-on learning, cross-training—will not be reflected in the library’s public policies, but will impact internal policies and procedures. Dickinson realizes that employees will appreciate a stated commitment to a culture of learning that will, in turn, help staff help patrons.

Scenario 2

A library seeking to meet Benchmark 9.3, which states, "The library assures adequate time for patrons to complete tasks", may need to review its policies regarding time limits for Internet and computer sessions. Some libraries allow extended sessions at the discretion of staff so that patrons may complete application forms for jobs, school enrollment, or government services. Some libraries offer extended sessions for online classes and document creation, and some let patrons make appointments for extended sessions. 

Ongoing Change

Each library has to develop policies appropriate to their community and their customers. The only certainty is change, and as public access technology services grow and evolve in your library, your policies will need to reflect these changes.