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General Policy Development

Keep in mind when creating a policy that there is a hierarchy of law and that each level must correspond and not contradict the level above it.  An illustration of this hierarchy is:

Questions to ask in creating a policy are:

  • Are your policies in alignment with your priorities?
  • Are your policies reflective of actual practice?

Common problems with policies:

  • they are not regularly updated;
  • written in narrative form;
  • manuals often poorly written and hard to understand;
  • written without thought as to how they will be implemented;
  • policy statements or regulations may conflict with local, state, or federal laws or regulations;
  • distinctions between/among policy statements, regulations, procedures and guidelines are unclear;
  • policy statements, regulations, procedures, and guidelines contradict each other.

When developing policies, consider these two concepts:

  • Effectiveness  =  doing the right thing
  • Efficiency  =  doing things right

Policies and regulations are intended to ensure that the library is operating effectively in ways that are consistent with the mission, goals and objectives, or, doing the right things.

Procedures and guidelines are much more concerned with efficiency, or doing things the right way.

Here are some definitions that help to determine which type of document you need to address the issue.

 Director Approved  Board Approved

Guideline:  a description of best practice that proves suggestions on the most efficient ways to implement policy statements.  Guidelines are more philosophical in nature than policies, regulations or procedures.  Guidelines are approved by the director but rarely reviewed by the governing authority – the library board.

Policy:  frequently used as a generic term for policy statements, regulations, procedures, guidelines that apply to a specific issue.

Here, policy refers to the set of basic principles, communicated in policy statements to guide decisions and provide direction on library operations and usage.  These are approved by the Board.

Practice:  the way things are actually done.  Practice may not be supported by policy.  Practice can be an oral tradition and very subjective.

Policy statement:  a brief statement that describes why the library does something.  Library service policies should be written from the customer’s point of view.  These will be approved by Board.

Procedure: a written step-by-step description of how staff will carry out a policy or regulation.  Procedures are more flexible than regulations and will change as needs and tools available to staff change.  Procedures are developed by staff and approved by managers.  Procedures are not approved and reviewed by the Board.


Regulation:  a specific written rule that further defines a policy, describing what must be done to support the policy.  Regulations are generally approved by Board.





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