What are Policies of Yes and how might they help us serve our user groups? On this show Jennie Garner, Director of the North Liberty Library, shares what it means to think about policies in a way that creates flexibility, inclusion, empathy, and allyship with those we serve while including staff in policy development and training in a way that gets everyone to yes. 


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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

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.

What are Policies of Yes, and how might they help us serve our user groups? On this show Jennie Garner, Director of the North Liberty Library, shares what it means to think about policies in a way that creates flexibility, inclusion, empathy, and allyship with those we serve, while including staff in policy development and training in a way that gets everyone to, Yes.  Enjoy the show!

Jennie, welcome to the show.

Jennie Garner:

Well, thank you so much for inviting me.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: I’m glad to have you here, and I think this topic is a good one. We are talking today about Policies of Yes. As we begin, will you please share with our listeners just what are Policies of Yes?  01:22

Jennie Garner:

I have always strongly believed that in writing policy, that we should be both flexible and empower our library staff to make decisions that are working—the best things to do when we’re working with our patrons. 

I have presented on policies multiple times to different library organizations, and I was asked this past year to present to ARSL, which is the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, on the topic of policy. It was pretty broad and open. 

As I was thinking about what approach I wanted to take to give the presentation a little bit of a refresher before I went into that—I was speaking with a co-worker about possibly co-presenting with me, because we just had a conversation about how libraries—we intentionally create space that allows people to organically feel that they belong. That’s something that we’ve been wanting to do at our library. To quote her, my co-worker Emily, It’s not our job to invite people to belong, but rather I suggested, that’s it our job to set them a place at the table, so that they instinctively know that they belong when they walk through our doors—and they’re able to contribute input on how we operate, and the programming we’re offering and things like that, but also that they’re able to consume our services and our programs.

So, during our brainstorming session we talked about how would we approach ensuring that our policies are neutral and inclusive? And, do we need all these things that we want them to do? Having effective policies is so important. This just isn’t something that we’ve been doing consciously. So, the Policies of Yes presentation brought it to the forefront for us, but there is still more work that we could be doing. It’s really about inviting the people who came to that program, that presentation, to take the journey with us because we’re not there yet, we’re just starting to explore this work.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: How can Policies of Yes ensure that we are actively inclusive? 03:26 

Jennie Garner:

To me, equity and diversity happen at the surface, while inclusion and belonging require a little bit of a deeper dive. When we practice inclusion, or active inclusion, the library organically just begins to feel like a place of belonging. So first, I would confess that for the longest time, in fact pretty much always, I have believed that libraries were just naturally inclusive by nature. But, when you really get down to thinking about it that’s not always true. I think that we want to be that. I think most librarians pride themselves on being welcoming and leveling that playing field by offering services to anyone who comes through our doors, but if we really think about active inclusion that happens when we reach out, and we seek to make people feel that they’re a part of the work that we’re doing. 

The idea of that Policies of Yes—that title, came from the Shonda Rhimes’s book, Year of Yes, the idea that saying yes can be really affirming both for us, and for our patrons. The quote from her book that we took as this whole is, the very act of saying yes is not only life-changing, it can be life saving.

We’ve all heard about the idea of—most of us have had front-line staff keeping a Log of No, or a No-Log where if we have to say no why did we say no? How can we turn that around and turn it into a yes, or deliver a service? As an administrator, and a librarian, I know I’ve done that multiple times with my staff for periods of time. We’ve taken those No-Logs and looked at them. 

I always want staff to keep in mind how they can say yes to our patrons. That doesn’t always mean that they’re delivering the service, necessarily, but how can we find ways to help them? It might be a, Yes, and we’re going to do this for you. We can connect you with the people who can help you here. So, how can we be flexible and meet our patron’s needs and give our patrons that experience that they want every single time they walk through our doors?

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: And you talk about this intriguing thing called, a JEDI policy statement. What is a JEDI policy statement?  05:28 

Jennie Garner:

Well mainly, I think our staff just really liked the term, JEDI. [laughter] But, and I’m only half kidding on that—JEDI is actually the whole idea of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, but we just put Justice in front of that, the term justice. That’s something that’s been, locally,  discussed by—our staff is involved in several different organizations, and on boards in the communities, and that’s one of the terms that they’ve used on some of the boards that a couple of my staff are involved in. 

The policy statement is an overall commitment for us to social justice principles, and how we want those to be part of all of our policies. So, while we want our policies to be neutral, we don’t believe that our libraries can be neutral. Social justice lies in the realm of responsibility for public libraries. In my opinion, the impact that we have on our community in our respective area, where we live, positions us perfectly to be allies to the underserved, and the disenfranchised in our communities.

The very fact that people can walk through our doors and receive free service without paperwork, library cards aside. They can walk in and do almost anything they need to do in the library without much—they’re not asked where they’re from. They’re not asked why they’re there. That just builds this foundation for libraries to take this role and work with disempowered members in our community.

Our policy statement is just in its draft form because it literally just came about as part of this whole new process that we’re working on. It reads, At the North Liberty Library we commit to treating every individual with dignity, and respect. We strive to create a safe, inviting environment where inclusion and belonging are a natural part of the culture. These values are reflected in our policies and in our service.

So the JEDI commitment is what we are calling it—what we are naming that statement, Reflects the library as a space where people can feel safe, engaged, respected, and valued.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: And, can you tell us how your organization is reviewing your policies and statements to include the concepts that you are sharing today?  07:32 

Jennie Garner:

At our library I recently realized that we actually started this process when I was hired six years ago. When I was hired as a director we began to include all of the staff in full reviews of all of our job descriptions—looking at fairness, and being sure that duties and job functions were well aligned with the positions. Then we started looking through all of our policies and reviewing them and culling some out and combining some policies.

More recently we’ve looked at job posts, too, to look at whether we’re using this lens of inclusivity and neutral language for every policy and every job posting that goes out. We’ve been redesigning our staff onboarding and training. So, it’s just across the board we’re doing this work.

We’re looking, particularly, at language. How are we wording things in our policies so that they’re not punitive? That they’re very neutral for everyone who reads them, and then instilling that service model into all of our training for our front-line staff—to give them permission to be flexible and inclusive when they’re making decisions. Having those strong, flexible policies put into place just to protect our staff and our patrons, both.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: Do you have any tips for effectively writing these policies and statements?  08:52 

Jennie Garner:

I think effective policy writing to be a whole entire topic of itself. I am a policy geek, so I get really excited about policy, which is just weird, I know. But, my number one suggestion, probably, for this would be just using positive language over punitive language. Most people don’t use the library with the intent that they’re going to break rules, or break our policies. Nobody—I mean most people when they come in that’s not what they’re planning to do when they walk through our doors. So, we throw out the words radical trust quite often—just the idea of ensuring that our policies are not creating barriers for our patrons, and that they’re allowing our staff to do their jobs well. 

Sometimes when I’m reading on email lists, just as an aside I’ll read these questions from other librarians about how to handle certain situations with a patron or a group. Almost always if you have conduct policy in place then that is already cast for you when you run into these issues. It’s already there. But, I think people just want to—they start wanting to create policy for one-off situations. When I see that happening, then I just want to cringe and just say to people, Just take a breath, take a step back. Reactive policy writing is just going to create unneeded policies.

If we keep in mind why we have our policies—it really is the first step. Why do we have policy in place? We have policy to protect our staff and patrons, as I just mentioned. Then I would suggest writing policies that ensure that our institutional guidelines are consistent, fair, flexible and that they’re in line with our governing entities, our cities, our counties, our board—with their values, and what they’re trying to do, as well at that bigger picture level.

I think that our policies need to be broad enough to cover situations that can arise, and written to be proactive, rather than being reactive. We’re not doing anybody any service when we react and create new policies. 

Local application and decision-making play a huge role in setting policy, and being sure that our policies are legal and ethical is also very important. Our city attorney is always really happy to review policies, although I do joke I try not to let him get his hands on them too often, because it’s never good when I have to get the lawyer involved. But, he’s pretty awesome. He’s actually offered to write policy for us, which I get a little nervous about, but… [laughter]

I guess I would just recommend clear, concise language, not narrative writing when you’re writing policy. And then finally, what I’ve mentioned before, including your staff and your board in that development of policies. When you have front-line staff involved, and your part-time staff too, they’re the ones doing the work. They’re the ones out there all the time. So, I think they have a different view, sometimes, than we do. Our board calendar reviews policy every single month. So, at every meeting I’m sending out, two weeks prior to the meeting, the board policies for staff to read and review, and provide any input. They’re in the weeds of it, so I want their input on how things are working. Now we’re asking them to look through this new lens of whether they’re neutral, and fair.

I think if you have your regular reviews going, then you have your staff’s eyes on them, too. It’s just good practice. There are so many good examples of good policy and good practice. I have four or five libraries that are go-to’s for me, where if I know I have to write something I’ll go and compare, and look at what they’re doing—just knowing that I think that they have solid policies in place.

Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don’t. We kind of mix and match, and find out what works best for us. Libraries are really good about borrowing and sharing with each other, so we don’t have to reinvent. We just need to find the right one, and then adapt it to our needs.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: You mentioned working with staff in developing these policies. Once Policies of Yes are in place, how can libraries train staff to be flexible, and inclusive even in tough situations?  12:50

Jennie Garner:

You can’t train empathy, but you can train delivery of service with empathy. We want our staff to have empathy when they’re talking with patrons. I was just actually talking to someone at another library who said that one of their staff wanted to charge someone for a book that came back with cockroaches—kind of icky. But you think about it, that person who brought that book back probably can’t afford to pay for a new book. So, in those types of situations what do we have in our minds? Is it that important to us to recover the cost of that book, or more to go a step further—how can we help that patron? Starting to think in that way and practicing—it starts by being inclusive and welcoming with our own employees, right?

Internally, we work really hard here to build a super positive work culture that’s based on trust, and allowing all of our members, including the part-timers, the ones who just work even a few hours a week, to contribute to what we’re doing here. I think that staff input into policy and procedure development, and then being granted the decision-making powers is where it counts with our patrons, that’s where we want them.

Whenever I have new staff I always say, We hired you because we trust you to do your jobs, and you’re certainly always welcome to ask questions, but you can make decisions without feeling worried that you’re going to get in trouble, or that you’re going to make the wrong decision. It’s okay. We’re going to work through that. We want staff to have inclusion seated in their minds all the time, both internally, and then externally, and while doing their duties in the library, and with every service they deliver.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: Is there anything else you’ like to share?  14:43 

Jennie Garner:

I’ll tell you a little bit about something that I’ve been thinking about lately. I mentioned earlier the idea of libraries being ally organizations. I just wanted to revisit that idea. It’s come out of all of this research that we did for this session we gave. As I was doing some research on a topic that I’m really interested in, which is incarcerated—the service for incarcerated and returning citizens. This idea came to me about, How can we be allies for our community? 

As I was reading, and I was researching it, what I found was that the definitions of allyship are almost all how individuals are allying with groups, or two groups, that are disenfranchised. I’m sure that I’m not the only one to come up with this concept, but I didn’t find it out there. I just feel that we’re so positioned, so well positioned to be taking on these roles as ally organizations— helping individuals who need a voice and access to services in our communities. 

We’re already doing the things to be in that situation, we just have to speak up. So, I guess that is even—to go a step further with that inclusion idea of policy writing, to be inclusive is where we’re interrupting. We’re interrupting the system, and not being neutral when it comes to how we work in our communities.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: Do you have a favorite management, or leadership books, or resources, and why?  16:05 

Jennie Garner:

Probably my very favorite management book, or leadership book, is Radical Candor, by Kim Scott. It’s a little bit corporate, but if you haven’t read it, it is just about the idea of being upfront and honest with people, and delivering that honesty with kindness, and respect. It’s really shaped how I speak to my staff. It’s shaped how I talk to my family, and my friends. I’m a lot more up-front than I used to be, which I don’t know if everybody loves that but, [laughter] I feel better about it. Her basic premise is that you owe it to yourself and others to be honest. 

Then I would say Ted Talks. I love Ted Talks because they’re short and sweet and they just get right to the point. That’s probably why I like reading Teen Fiction, too—same concept. But, like Drew Dudley, and Simon Sinek, Bryan Stevenson, Brené Brown, of course—Margaret Heffernan, who I think is fantastic. There’s a lot of them. I dig up Ted Talks about every week and watch one or two, they’re bite-sized, and easy.

And then I loved the StrengthsFinders because I think it really helps us shape how we work with people.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9: Thank you for those. Jennie, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 17:24 

Jennie Garner:

Libraries are about connection for me. I think that’s what we do every day, and that’s probably why I love it so much. It’s about connecting people to information, connecting people to the resources they need, and then just connecting people to other people. And often, those other people are us, right? The librarians—people seek connection when they come here.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Connection is so important in libraries—great point. Jennie, I have enjoyed talking with you today about Policies of Yes, which are so foundational in all of our libraries, and what you’re doing creates flexibility, inclusion, empathy, and even supports our communities as allies. So, this is important work and I’m so glad we got to talk to each other today about this, and have our listeners tune in, so thank you.

Jennie Garner:

You bet. I appreciate being here.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks 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.