30 Days of How-to #14: How to Look at Policies

Recently I was looking online at public library behavior policies. I was astonished at how negative many of the policies were—full of “don’ts” and “These activities prohibited.” Now, I understand that libraries need standards. I also understand that library workers are often confrontation-averse, and prefer to have a written rule to point at when telling a patron not to do something. The fact that teens in particular are inclined to respond to a reprimand with a “Where does it say that?” adds to the desire to have everything written clearly.

But, really. Most teens would take one look at some of these behavior policies and quickly conclude, “Okay, then; they obviously don’t want me in here.” And, sadly, in some cases, they might be right. For example: “No skateboards permitted in the library.” What about the teen whose skateboard is his primary means of transportation? Is he supposed to leave it outside to be stolen? Maybe a positively-worded policy would do the trick, something along the lines of “You may bring skateboards, skates, and other sports equipment into the library while you are looking for materials, but they may not be used inside the building.”

So how do you look at your library’s policies and determine whether or not they are teen friendly and appropriate?

  • ‘ Find your library’s guiding documents. This might include a strategic plan, mission statement, core values, policy manual, procedure manual, behavior rules. These documents may be readily available on the library’s website or in a prominent place in the library, but you may have to ask a supervisor where to find them.
  • Read these from the perspective of a teen: Are teens even mentioned specifically? Would a teen who read these documents feel that the library cared about him or her? Do the library’s goals, for example, talk about early (preschool) literacy but ignore the issue of retaining middle school and high school teens?
  • Are the goals, values, and other statements appropriate to the developmental needs of teens? For example, some libraries include in their behavior policy a rule about not moving or rearranging library furniture without express—even written—permission from library administration. This is a policy that was probably written because every afternoon the teens were shoving four or five tables together to make a big study table, or dragging chairs into a circle, the better to converse. Teens like to work in groups. Perhaps these libraries need to think about creating a more flexible seating area where teens can congregate.
  • Are policies equitable and reasonable for all ages? Are they enforced equitably? Sometimes policies about noise are used to quell the noisy teens, but ignored when it comes to the storytime moms.
  • Are circulation rules equitable and reasonable for all ages? Are there different borrowing periods or fines for teens? Does getting a library card require a government photo id, or are there other options for younger borrowers?
  • Is parental permission required for teens to use certain collections or to use the library’s internet access? What is the policy based on: state law, the library board’s decision, an attorney’s interpretation?
  • Talk to the teens who do come to the library. Find out if they think there are rules that discriminate against them.

Now, how do you follow through if you discover that your library’s policies aren’t as teen-friendly as they might be? Tune in next week for tips on how to change things!

About Sarah Flowers

Sarah Flowers is a YALSA Past President and former Deputy County Librarian for the Santa Clara County (CA) Library. Currently she does writing and speaking on topics related to teen services and teaches online courses for California's Infopeople Project.
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