Monday (Tuesday) Briefing - June 13, 2022

Questions of the Week: On Policies

QUESTION: Ron, do we really need all of the policies included in the Trustee Handbook Policy Checklist?

RON: Yes.

QUESTION: Really?!?

RON: Maybe not all, but certainly most of them. If your library is missing a "Library Equipment Usage Policy" because you do not have that sort of equipment, that is understandable. However, anything that you do in the library should have a corresponding policy.

I know, this list can seem daunting. Developing and maintaining policies can be difficult (especially since each policy needs to be reviewed at least every five years to be in compliance with NYS Minimum Standards), but if the library is missing a policy, it's an open invitation for liability.

QUESTION: My Board doesn't think we need that many policies until we have an issue. Would it be okay to develop them on an as-needed basis?

RON: Nope.

Think of policy development as risk management. They are an internal insurance policy for how people behave, interact, and conduct business within the library. In the paragraph above I mentioned liability, the library is a chartered entity by the New York State Education Department, no matter how large or small your library is it falls under a plethora of laws and regulations that cannot be ignored. Many of these laws and regulations reference the language in your local policy. If you are missing pre-existing policies there is rarely a "default" that will benefit the library.

For example, let's say you have an employee who has been underperforming, is late to their shift every day, and refuses to do the tasks assigned. So, you decide to terminate this employee. You have the documentation and you're all set, you give them the termination letter, then they ask when their two weeks of accrued vacation will be paid out to them. If you do not have a Personnel Policy that specifically states that unused vacation is not paid to staff who are terminated with cause, you have to revert to the default in New York which is to pay them the money! Even if you rush a policy amendment, you would be obligated to default to the payout. Just like you can't insure a car after an accident, the same is true for policies in the library.

QUESTION: Our library is so small that we doubt there will ever be an issue. Don't you think the effort in maintaining these policies is more work than necessary?

RON: In my time at the System I have personally worked on 19 instances where issues involving policies have required legal involvement. These are just the most difficult issues. In most cases, things were solved with minor adjustments and an attorney fee. These were the "easy" cases. The others end in payouts, resignations, terminations, and liability. So in my opinion (as well as the Trustee Handbook, the State Education Department, and the Office of the State Comptroller), it is much more difficult to deal with a situation when you are missing a policy than it is to maintain a policy manual.

It is not a matter of if, but when your library runs into a situation where you will need these policies. Without policies, the Library Board is liable.

Also, when the Office of the State Comptroller starts auditing libraries again, they like to do a deep dive into financial policies. No one wants to be labeled as misusing public funds. This doesn't just go for Public Libraries, Cooperative Library Systems have been audited in the recent past and they operate like Association Libraries, so it wouldn't surprise me if Association Libraries with district funding fell under the investigation of the OSC at some point.

QUESTION: Hearing about all of this is anxiety-producing. How are the Board and Director supposed to put all these policies in place?

RON: Setting up policies shouldn't frighten you. If you put a system in place and make it a regular part of your Board Meeting, you should be able to handle this without much of an issue.

Here are a few steps that I suggest following:
  1. Step One - Have your Board appoint a Policy Committee of two Trustees. The Board President is an ex officio member and the Library Director should be involved in all meetings too.
  2. Step Two - Print out the Recommended Policies Checklist 2022.pdf, then:
    • Check off all the policies you already have drafted/approved;
    • Cross out any that you would consider irrelevant to your library;
    • Prioritize the policies that need to be developed (financial and personnel should be at the top of the list);
    • Divide policies up among the Policy Committee to begin drafting (The Board is ultimately responsible for approving the policy, however, the initial draft can be done by anyone on the committee including the Director); then
    • Meet to discuss, revise, and prepare for the Board Meeting.
  3. Step Three - Send drafted policies to the Board a week before the meeting so they can review and suggest edits. This is not for the Board to rewrite the policy, just to check for consistency and errors.
  4. Step Four - Approve the policy at the meeting, add the date at the bottom and indicate if it was adopted, amended, or reviewed.
  5. Step Five - Collect all the Word files of your policies and put them in one location. Either in a folder on a library desktop or on a hard drive. Make sure you have a backup that you keep up to date. I like to have all the policies in one Word document so I can search for dates, things that need to be changed, etc., but you can have them all as individual files too.
  6. Step Six - Upload the policies to your website (so you're in compliance with Minimum Standards).
  7. Step Seven - Create a list of policies that will need to be updated this year (I search the Policy Manual document for dates that are five years old then add those to my list).
  8. Step Eight - Plan to review one to three policies every Board Meeting. If you keep this on a rolling basis you won't need to do a huge overhaul every five years. Keep your Policy Committee active.
For Personnel Policies, do the same thing, except with your Personnel Committee instead of your Policy Committee.

QUESTION: Our Board is small, do we really need both a Policy and Personnel committee?

RON: Yes. Dividing out the review process of internal and external policies makes life a lot easier for everyone. Get it on a schedule.

QUESTION: What other resources are there to help with Policy Development?

RON: Here are a few links…
  1. Recommended Policies Checklist 2022.pdf
  2. System Policy Manual.docx
  3. Employee Handbook Template for Member Libraries 2022.docx
  4. Helpful Information for Meeting Minimum Public Library Standards: Written Policies
  5. Trustee Handbook: Risk Management
  6. Trustee Handbook: Policies
  7. Trustee Handbook Book Club: Policies & Risk Management
  8. OWWL Library System Trustee Workshop: Developing Policies
  9. Ready, Set, Policy!: Using the 2022 Collection Management Guide, Tuesday, July 19th @ 10:00 - 11:00 am
This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding OWWL Docs? Send feedback

This website is using cookies. More info. That's Fine