Two common questions when developing or updating a policy manual are:

1) What policies should our library have?

2) What is the best way to organize our policies?

In response to the first question, you and your board would be in the best position to provide an answer.  Each library is unique, and as a board member, you know the needs of your library.

However, the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (2010 Edition) notes:

 “Typically, library boards have written policy statements in the following areas, as well as a policy and procedure for a regular review of policies:”

Internal Policies

  • Confidentiality of library records
  • Emergency Procedures
  • Personnel Policies
  • Nepotism
  • Purchasing
  • Investment of Public Funds
  • Public Relations
  • Continuing Education of Staff and Trustees
  • Volunteers
  • Fundraising, Gifts, and Memorials
  • Records Retention
  • Code of Ethics / Conflict of Interest
External Policies:

  • Patron Complaints
  • Procedure for Challenges to Library Materials
  • Censorship
  • Non-resident Use
  • Hours and Day of Operation
  • Lending Rules and Procedures
  • Collection Development and Weeding
  • Acceptable Patron Behavior
  • Unattended Children Policy
  • Acceptable Use of the Internet and Electronic Resources
  • Use of Meeting Rooms, Exhibits, Display Space
  • Public Access to Records

The handbook, also notes: “These areas can be further broken down to suit your library’s particular organizational structure.”

In the design of LTA’s Policy Database, for the sake of simplicity and in an attempt to define policies in a “common language,” we have categorized all policies according to the Handbook’s list of typical policies.  In the advanced search of the database a visitor can select the “policy category” option and find policies for any of these categories.  Using a combination of other search features in conjunction with the policy category search will provide more refined search results.

LTA has also designed the “Search Similar Libraries” feature which allows visitors to select a library and instantly retrieve policy results based on matching criteria like library budget and population.  This can be especially useful if your library is trying to capture a quick glimpse of policies which “similar libraries” have and which your board may want to consider adding to your policy manual.

In answering the second question, concerning how to organize policies, the Handbook makes two recommendations:

  • “It is a good idea to categorize the library’s policies into internal (such as personnel, disaster planning, financial controls, etc.) and external (dealing with the public).”
  • “All policies should be able to stand alone and be dated for the original adoption and the last review and/or revision.  They should be recorded, compiled, and organized for ready access in a policy manual.”

As you search through policies in LTA Database, you will come across many different formats, styles,   and numbering schemes.  If you do a keyword search for “table of contents” or “contents” this can give you a sense of how some other libraries have structured their policy manuals  The hierarchy of contents varies, and some libraries have chosen to have a general table of contents for their entire manual, while also including separate table of contents for particular policy sections which tend to be longer and more detailed – Collection Development, Emergency Policies, and Personnel Policies seem to be the most frequent instances.

Of course, it would be ideal for all libraries to follow a similar organizational format so that all trustees, directors and other staff (not to mention patrons) can speak of policies in a “common language.”

However, ultimately the goal is to have a policy manual which allows for quick and easy access to policies in the simplest way that makes most sense for your own library.  If you have any tips that you would like to share with fellow library boards, including your policy manual’s table of contents, please let us know.  Your fellow trustees and directors could greatly benefit from your experience.