Library Leadership

75. Creating Effective Policies and Procedures with Carli Spina

How do you tackle the important work of creating effective policies and procedures in your library?

While this sometimes seems like a daunting task it’s essential to keeping our organizations running smoothly. On this show, I speak with Carli Spina, Associate Professor and Head of Research and Instructional Services at the Fashion Institute of Technology Library. 

She shares valuable information on why policy and procedure writing is important, how to create effective workflow for this process, how we can evaluate what we already have in place, and how to introduce new policies and procedures to staff and the larger community. 

Full Transcript

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Adriane:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

How do you tackle the important work of creating effective policies and procedures in your library? While this sometimes seems like a daunting task, it’s essential to keeping our organizations running smoothly. On this show I speak with Carli Spina, Associate Professor and Head of Research and Instructional Services at the Fashion Institute of Technology Library.

She shares valuable information on why policy and procedure writing is important, how to create an effective workflow for this process, how we can evaluate what we already have in place, and how to introduce new policies and procedures to staff and the larger community.  Enjoy the show.

Carli, welcome to the show.

Carli Spina:

Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate the invitation.

Adriane:

Thank you for talking with me today about writing effective policies and procedures. As we start off, it seems intuitive that we all want to do this in our organizations, but what do we stand to gain by writing effective policies and procedures? 01:35  

Carli Spina:

I think there are several things that can be gained by focusing on creating effective policies and procedures for our libraries. First, if it’s done correctly, it helps to ensure equitable treatment for all. Without policies and procedures that are written and enforced with a focus on equity, it’s very easy for patrons to be treated in ways that are discriminatory, or exclusionary.

For example, it’s very easy for different employees to take different approaches, either from the approaches of their colleagues, either in different departments, or even within a department. Or, maybe an employee just takes a different approach when they’re working with different patrons, if the guidance is not clear. These can create problems. And really, that’s something that can be avoided by having a strong set of policies and procedures.

Second, effective policies and procedures can better support and protect employees, too. A good policy is something that an employee can really point to when enforcing the library’s rules. And clear procedures can give employees confidence in their interactions with everyone, whether it’s their colleagues, or whether it’s an angry patron. It really can help them to know what they should do in a lot of difficult situations.

Really, if you’re thinking clearly about all those sort of situations, when you’re writing policies and procedures, it can also help to assist employees in knowing who they can go to when they are in these difficult situations for additional support, or escalating a complaint, or disturbance. 

Additionally, writing and reviewing policy and procedures helps the library’s team to articulate the library’s values and make sure these values are being put into action. A lot of times, I don’t think that we all focus on writing policies and procedures. But, it can be a really great way of helping to make sure that libraries are achieving their mission and staying focused on what they are hoping to achieve.

Adriane:

What are the keys to effective policies and procedures?  03:35 

Carli Spina:

I think the number one key to effective policies and procedures, in my opinion, is to write them clearly and in plain language. Sometimes I think, it can be tempting to go with a very formal, or even legalistic set of phrases and have, sort of, a document that seems very technical, or very formal. But, plain language can help to make sure that it’s understood by everybody. When I’m talking about plain language that incorporates a lot of elements that go beyond simply avoiding jargon or acronyms, or legalistic language. It also means taking a more personal tone using you statements, avoiding passive voice, and focusing on goals and outcomes. 

It also means having a clear design for the content, such as using bullet points, sections, and recurring patterns and phrases across the library’s various documents to make them easier to follow, and to make them flow together better. 

It can be helpful in this process to gather input from those who don’t have special expertise in the topic covered by the policy or procedure. So, that can really help to make sure that it is something that’s clear to everyone. And this can mean feedback from employees in other departments, or from patrons. It can even mean sometimes, going to those outside of the library community entirely to just get an opinion on, If you read this would you know what it meant? Because, I think sometimes when we write documents we’re not as focused on whether or not there’s that clarity…and that’s a really important element when you’re talking about something that’s going to be a policy that you expect all patrons to follow, or a procedure that you want employees to all interpret and apply in the same manner.

Adriane:

What’s the difference between a policy and a procedure? 05:15 

Carli Spina:

So, policies are more of a broad statement. You can think of them often as perhaps the rules of the library. And, there’s something that I think generally should be published publicly because it’s something that is generally going to be something that a patron would look at and also employees. It’s very important for that reason that they be written in a way that that’s the audience that you’re thinking of. 

Procedures tend to be more internal documents, and more employee facing. So for example, that might be something that tells an employee how they would enforce a policy, or the day-to-day procedures that they should follow to make sure that a policy actually never even becomes a point of conflict.

Adriane:

So, doing this work is very important. And, how can we create a good workflow to get this work done in our organizations? 06:01 

Carli Spina:

This can be tricky, I think. But, it’s really something that is best done by having a workflow that realizes that the process can never be considered finished. Instead, it should really be thought of as a cycle. Because, policies and procedures need to be regularly reviewed and updated as needed.

The cycle starts with identifying a need and researching how other libraries have approached this process. And, I think the key there is really focusing on a need. So, while it is really important to know what other libraries are doing in an area, and I think, it can be very instructive to look at their language when you are writing your own policies, so you’re not starting from scratch. 

It’s really important to make sure that there is a clear need at your library for this policy. Without that it’s really not something that you should be creating. Because having unnecessary policies, or policies that really aren’t going to come up frequently, is something that is really only going to create more confusion, or just end up something that’s not equitably or correctly enforced or understood.

Once you’ve done that part of the process throughout the drafting process, it’s important to integrate review by other parties. That might mean legal reviews for policy. But, it also means review of all the language by employees, and review by appropriate members of management and leadership of the library. 

And while you’re doing this review process you want to make sure that you’re very open to their comments and you recognize that you are going to have to revise the initial draft language. It is just a draft. And you really want to try not to argue against the changes that people are proposing, but instead thinking about how they might help make it a stronger document, and really incorporating them as appropriate.

That way you’ll know that by the end of the process the language is really finalized and isn’t going to need a lot of changes. It’s particularly important to integrate feedback from impassive employees into this process. This will ensure that new policies and procedures won’t have unintended impacts on existing workflows, and will be enforceable, and useable in all the situations that they’re meant to be applied in.

Adriane:

How do we evaluate what we already have in place? 08:22 

Carli Spina:

I think that that’s something that really does need to be done regularly. And ideally, the way you want to go about that is by collecting feedback about policies and procedures on an ongoing basis. 

That might mean feedback from patrons. But, it’s also important to specifically track situations where the policy was enforced, or where a procedure was put into action. And try to have opportunities for discussion after these events about what went well and what did not. This information can be very important when you’re trying to evaluate policies and procedures, and make improvements.

In addition, part of the evaluation process should always be comparing these policies and procedures to the library’s mission. Do the policies and procedures serve the mission? And if not, should they be changed or eliminated? That’s something that sometimes may be overlooked. But it’s really worthwhile, because it’s important that all of this language works together cohesively.

It’s also important in the evaluation process to watch for inconsistencies. You want to make sure policy A and policy B aren’t going to be counter to one another, or that the way the procedures are written isn’t going to be such that it’s impossible for employees to enforce them all. Or perhaps even, impossible for employees to follow all those procedures while still having time in their day for their job duties.

And finally it’s really worth considering as each document is evaluated, whether it is still needed. I have, sort of, alluded to this a few times. But you want to be asking, What is the need driving the policy or procedure? Is it served well by the document you’re evaluating? Does it come up frequently enough to need to be a policy or procedure? And if not, Why are you keeping this policy or procedure? And should you consider, possibly instead, eliminating it, or combining it with something else, or addressing the need in a different manner?

Adriane:

And when we do introduce new policies and procedures, how do we roll these out to staff and the larger library community? 10:19 

Carli Spina:

I think the first step to introducing new policy is to make sure that the full set of related policies and procedures are ready at the same time. For policies it’s really best, I think, to make them publicly available, as I mentioned before. And so for most libraries, this will mean having them clearly posted on their website as soon as they’re going into effect. And beyond that, policies related to behavior in the library should probably also be posted, or at least made available in relevant library spaces.

So for example, and many libraries do this, policies about using those computers should be clearly posted near the computers. Where possible, when you are posting policies, they should be summarized briefly, or even represented using images or icons. So, that if someone’s just sort of standing they can see really quickly what the policy or rule in the space is. 

If it’s a major shift in policy, you may also want to do additional marketing or outreach. For example, many libraries have moved to being sign free. And that would be a policy shift that we would really want to make a big announcement about. Because it is something that’s very significant, and it’s important for patrons to understand what that sort of policy change would mean for them.

For policy and procedures’ success, I think it’s really important to make sure that they’re integrated into the appropriate handbook or employee internet so that from day one employees can look up the documents and read them for themselves. Because, that’s part of making sure that people have the ability, even if it’s announced or read out at a meeting – some people prefer to be able to read it, or refer to it themselves. So, having that from day one is a really important piece of the process. 

And whenever there’s a new policy or procedure, or even just a significant change to one of these documents, there should be an opportunity for employees to have training on what this means to them and their workflows, and they should also have a space for questions and comments. As I mentioned before, ideally they were involved in the process of reviewing the document before it was approved. But even still, there should be a chance for people to ask questions about what the final language will mean for them in their day-to-day.

As part of evaluating policies and procedures, it is also important to offer opportunities for feedback. This can be done through focus groups, comment boxes, or anonymous online forms. And, this should be part of the roll out of the new policies and procedures –  explaining how people can offer these comments. Because when new policies or procedures roll out, that’s when you’re going to get the best feedback on it, because people will be paying the most attention to it. And, having this in place when you roll it out will make sure that those patrons and employees have an input on the review process in the future for that document, but also feel that they can offer their feedback, which is a big part of getting buy-in often.

Adriane:

That is a big part. Is there anything else you’d like to share? 13:15 

Carli Spina:

Yeah, I think the number one piece of advice I would say is that even though it can be tempting to feel like you’ve just checked the item off your list once a policy or procedure is approved, it really is vital to have a set schedule for reviewing policies and procedures. And, that goes back to what I was saying earlier about it being a cycle. Policies and procedures need to be evolving documents so that they can continue to serve the library well over time. And for this to work, they have to be regularly updated. Otherwise, there’s a real risk they will be enforced after they no longer make sense, or they no longer support the mission of the library. 

And so, I think it can be done in a lot of different ways, depending on the library. Some libraries review all documents once a year. Some review one document at each meeting of the leadership team or board of trustees. But whatever approach the library wants to take, there should be a clear plan and timeline for reviewing these documents. 

Adriane:

Carli, do you have a favorite management or leadership book, and why? 14:11 

Carli Spina:

One book that I like, and the resource to go along with it, is the Ask a Manager book by Alison Green. It’s based on the popular blog, which I think is also useful. It’s sort of like an advice column for managers, because people are able to write in and talk about issues that they’ve encountered, and then you get advice from Alison Green about how this should be handled. And the book was, sort of, based on this. But also, offers tips that are applicable in, I think, all types of institutions – not just libraries. 

For library management, I really also like to keep up with the articles that are published in Library Leadership and Management, which is an open access journal published by ALA’s Core division. 

Adriane:

Those sound great. Thank you so much. In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 15:00 

Carli Spina:

I think for me, libraries are – really at their best, places for education. And they’re places that can serve to help and support their communities, and patrons in a really rich range of different ways. So, they can be places for study, for research, for learning, but also for fun, relaxation, and support, and so much more. And, that’s what I really love about libraries is that they have the opportunity to provide so much to their communities, no matter what type of community that is. 

And, I really appreciate that they’re always being very creative in how to best support the community, whether that is a public library, or an academic library, or even corporate libraries. I think that they’re all always focused on how they can best provide resources and support to better communities, and to their patrons. And to me, that’s really just the most important thing about libraries, and the most meaningful thing. I really think that’s why I think that policies and procedures are important, because having strong and well thought out policies and procedures can really help libraries to achieve this promise.

Adriane:

That does help us achieve it. Well done. Carli, it has been great having you on the show today. Thank you so much for being here and sharing all of this with us to help us have the best policies and procedures possible for our organizations.

Carli Spina:

Thank you so much for having me, I really had a great time.

Adriane:

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

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