Nebraska Library Board Manual CHAPTER 3: Policies

The Nebraska Library Board Manual

CHAPTER 3: Policies


Library policies are essential for every library board and for every library regardless of size or number of library staff. Policy affects nearly everything a library board does. Library policy should be carefully written since it serves as the blueprint for library operations. Policymaking is an administrative library board’s most important function.


What are library policies?

Policies are broadly stated guidelines for how the library operates. They must be approved by the board. Policies are not detailed courses of action; rather they reflect the philosophy that supports the actions of the staff. Policies provide the basis for procedures. The procedures, or activities needed to carry out the policies, will be developed by library staff and do not require board approval.


Policies should be written in a way that is clear and easily understood, using simple and concise language. They should be made readily available to the public. Policies should reflect the priorities of the library and the expectations of the community. Library boards exist to represent the people. Of all board decisions, library policy decisions generally have the most frequent impact on individuals throughout the community. Valid policies conform to current laws, are reasonable, are non-discriminatory, and can be enforced. Policies should be reviewed by legal counsel to ensure that they do not conflict with local, state or federal laws or regulations.


Why does the library have policies?

Policies guide the library director and staff in the implementation of board judgments and provide direction and consistency in day-to-day service to the community. Policies reduce uninformed decision-making and crisis responses to problem situations. Policies help assure the public that library services will be provided in a fair and equitable manner. They protect the rights of patrons and staff. They provide the information that staff members need to do their job effectively. Policies reflect the library’s mission. Some policies are required for library accreditation.


Policy Considerations:

  • What policies does the library have, especially on issues such as:
    • Intellectual freedom.
    • Materials selection.
    • Requests from the public for reconsideration of library materials.
    • Patron behavior.
    • Internet use.
    • Confidentiality of patron records.
    • Use of library facilities.


  • What policies does the library need that it doesn’t have now?
  • How do board members develop and write policy?
  • How often do board members review library policies and revise them if needed?
  • How does the library board make its policies known to the public?


How do board members develop a policy manual?

Library policy development requires time and concentration to analyze the need for a policy, the possible options and wording of the proposed policy, and possible ramifications if the policy is adopted. Experience shows that hastily-developed policies, which are not clearly thought through by the board, are the most likely to result in misunderstandings and problems. The library board should not wait until the need for a policy creates pressure to act quickly. Develop a policy calmly when there is a predictable probability that the library needs one in a specific area.


Here are some steps to follow:

  • Write a statement of the condition that requires the policy.
  • Describe how the proposed policy will contribute to the library’s goals and mesh with the library’s mission.
  • Identify present policies that will be affected by the new policy.
  • Analyze short- and long-term effects; positive and negative side effects; estimated cost in dollars, time, staff; legal ramifications.
  • Prepare the exact wording of the proposed policy; it should answer ―why‖ the library has the policy.
  • Check to be sure that the policy conforms to local, state and federal laws.
  • Allow opportunities for public input.


After all library board members have reviewed and discussed the policy statement, a vote is taken. If approved, a notation should be made on the policy to show the date of approval, effective date and in the future, date reviewed and date revised. The library board and library staff will observe the effect of the new policy, alert for unanticipated results that might require policy modification. No policy is cast in stone. Because conditions, people and needs change, so do policies. The board should plan a regular, periodic review of all policies, revising, adding and deleting as needed.


The policy manual can be contained in a loose leaf binder to accommodate changes. Contents should be categorized and numbered for easy reference. Trustees and staff must be familiar with policies in order to support and enforce them. Policies also must be accessible to the public, the media and local officials.


For assistance in developing policies, or additional information and policy samples, contact your regional library system administrator or the Nebraska Library Commission.

What should be included in library policies?

Libraries are encouraged to have a policy manual which begins with general information including the history of the library, the mission or purpose of the library and the goals of the library. This may be followed with the bylaws that govern the basic operations of the board, such as frequency of meetings, length of terms, officers, duties and powers, etc.


The kinds of specific policies are as varied as the many different aspects of library service. Every phase of library operation should be broadly covered by a policy and implemented through library procedures.


Your local needs will determine the content of your policy manual. Samples of library policies are available at your library system office, in various publications and on library websites. See the end of this chapter for a more complete list of policies and sources of sample policies.


Some policies deal with the relationship of the library to its users, the community, the local government, other libraries, volunteers, Friends group, etc. Here are a few examples of areas covered by this type of policy:

  • Public services.
  • Circulation and use of materials.
  • Availability and use of facilities.
  • Intellectual freedom.


Other policies deal with administrative practices. They may include, but are not limited to, areas such as these:

  • Finance and investing / purchasing.
  • Selection of materials / collection development.
  • Gifts / donations.
  • Personnel / evaluation.
  • Emergencies / disasters.




Common Policy Topics


  • Residency requirements
  • Borrowing privileges
  • Loan period and renewals
  • Overdue material, fees, and fines
  • Lost and damaged material
  • Reserving material


Public Services:

  • Patron rights
  • Staff rights
  • Patron behavior
  • Unattended children
  • Complaints
  • Reference service
  • Confidentiality of patron records
  • Internet use



  • Volunteers
  • Friends of the Library
  • Personnel
  • Emergency and safety
  • Budget and finance
  • Continuing education and professional organizations
  • Gifts, memorials, and donations
  • Collection development and evaluation
  • Weeding
  • Challenges to material
  • Exhibits, displays and bulletin boards
  • Meeting rooms


Library Board:

  • Bylaws
  • Board duties
  • Board appointments
  • Committees
  • Meetings
  • Conflicts of interest



From the Nebraska Library Commission, obtained March, 2014

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