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Planning Process A Necessity for Libraries

A recurring regular interval, such as the beginning of each new year or the start of a fiscal year, is a good time for library organizations, as well as individuals, to take stock of their current situation and to develop plans for any appropriate changes. This issue of Access will focus on some of the areas that trustees and librarians may want to think about on some regular basis, if not every year.

The annual budget process for the library is driven by the fiscal year, and has its own recurring timetable. Board action on the budget will occur at a predictable time each year. The library policies and procedures, however, may continue from year to year without much attention, unless the director and board have set up a schedule to discuss them.

This may be done through a formally adopted board policy, or less formally as part of the library director's planning process or as a scheduled agenda item for the board.

The least desirable way to review library policy is after a particular policy has been made the focus of public discussion or criticism. The library staff and the trustees are then in a reactive position, and there is little time for study and review before you will be called on for some decision.

Areas where operating policies may lead to friction include non-resident borrower policies and fees; library programs and story hours; meeting room policies; and the selection of materials for the library collection. Each of these areas may already be covered in your library policies, but there are two reasons why it is still a good idea for the board and the library staff to review the policies regularly.

Time Changes Everything:

Our libraries are subject to the constant process of change that affects all aspects of the community around us. The population may be growing rapidly, with shifts in age groups and interests. The community economic situation may be changing, leading individuals and groups to turn to the public library in search of services. New services and new technology may be arriving in your area, and new policies may be needed to address those topics. Does the circulation policy now need to include video cassettes and computer disks as well as books? Policy decisions made by local government or by neighboring libraries may ultimately affect your library, leading to a review of policies and perhaps policy changes as well.

Policies Will Be Tested:

Any policy by its very nature will set limits on the use of the library and its resources, and anyone affected by such a limit may decide to look into the policy and see if they can obtain changes more favorable to their particular interests. The obvious example is the demand by a local resident to have certain books either removed from the library collection, or added to the collection. A book selection policy should provide for both situations.

Other areas of pressure may include the content of programs for children or adults, the use of library bulletin boards or newsletters, and the use of library meeting rooms for non-library meetings or events. The simple solution is to provide only programs, meetings, or newsletter articles by and about the library's own activities and services. However, the public library is usually the community forum and serves as the facilitator for community activities beyond direct library service. It is in these areas of community service and involvement that clear policies will be needed.

Updated 04/27/2006