How to Develop and Revise Church Library Policies

A policy is a written statement of your library's intentions. It can guide and determine present and future decisions. Policies are living documents adaptable to change.

Policies are important

A policy is a written statement of your library's intentions. It can guide and determine present and future decisions. Policies are living documents adaptable to change. They provide guidelines that can be modified, as your library's needs change. Policies should put into action services that will meet the needs of the library customers in the church and community. The implementing of these services should include actions which carry out the spirit and intent of the policies.

It takes time and careful consideration to develop useful and relevant documents for any organization. The library in the church or Christian school is no exception. A periodic evaluation of each policy will assure its usefulness. Knowing the purpose for a policy and what it is to perform will determine if it has a current role within the administration of a particular library.

Purpose and benefits of effective policies

Policies save time as guidelines or rules are established for customers and team. Up to date policies become the mutually agreed upon authority for making important decisions in the various areas of church library operation. In many library operational areas, policies help create consistency and continuity in providing equal service to its customers. Likewise, policies are sometimes provided for the technical processing of materials. These kinds of policies help the library team over a period of years to consistently prepare for the collection. In a way, this process is continuing customer service in the form of making the library user-friendly. These guidelines are in place until officially changed for the benefit of the library, its ministry team, and its users.

Policies help eliminate the repeating of a question regarding a decision, over and over again. The decision has already been made, agreed upon by the library team and other necessary church proceedings and referenced as the existing policy. An official agreement has been put it in place. Until the policy is updated, it is the authority. Up to date policies prevent decision-making redundancy and give clear instruction.

Policies improve communications. A well-written policy can save questions or confusion with library workers when a problem or decision of routine administration must be understood and acted upon. A team member working alone and needing an immediate answer about circulation policies, gift giving or acquisitions will feel comfortable in the position of decision-making if an action is required and that freedom is allowed. To feel a part of the ministry team, library workers need to develop a team spirit by participating in suggestions for and changes in policies for the library.

Policies strengthen operations. Being familiar with the policies and knowing where to find and understand them is an important part of the training process for the library team. The team will have a better understanding of the process and reasoning for creating and carrying out the instructions of the policies. Also, policies can help the library team to better understand the various library functions and how responsibilities are assigned and shared. With information that is current and clearly written, well-written policies will strengthen any library operation.

Types of policies and their contents

  • Criterion of collection development
  • Selection and gift policy
  • Types, description, and quality of materials included
  • How new media gifts are received
  • How used media gifts are received
  • Circulation of library materials
  • Library hours of operation
  • Length of lending period
  • Overdues-fines and replacement fees
  • Renewals-extended use of media
  • Administration-management
  • Personnel policies
  • Volunteer commitment
  • Team schedule and responsibilities
  • Copyright information
  • Use of technology and software
  • Videotapes
  • Audiotapes
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • Use of equipment in library
  • Use of internet
  • Customer services
  • Children and parents
  • Activities within library
  • Activities outside main library

Revising and updating a policy

Policies need to be periodically updated to assure their accuracy in communication and timeliness. When changes are made, or the actions do not match the meaning of the policies, it is obviously time to make adjustments. Format or the style of writing, such as the appearance is important for readability and understanding.

Library team members or other designated persons should be given the authority for interpreting changes and making revisions to current policies and manuals. Policies can be reread within days of their original writing and words seem to suddenly appear awkward and information is misunderstood. It is important to have careful proofreaders to help determine correctness in the writing or revision of any policies or procedures for the library. Matching the action with the written word and description is vitally important in the instruction of policies and other procedures.

The pages of each topical section should be three-hole punched and placed in a binder. Finish each section by noting the date of revision in a standardized location at the time each section updated. The date of the change in the policy is very important, but the initials of preparer or authority are optional. If policies are prepared for various topics as in the list shown above, build a handbook and create a table of contents, introduction, purpose and then update as necessary.

Importance of layout

For an example, I will re-write the above information to show the importance of layout, use of descriptive words, bullets and italics. The following text is the same information as above in the previous section. The layout of text can enhance the readability and clarity of the information. Compare the two styles:

Revising and updating a policy:

  • Policies need to be periodically updated to assure their accuracy in communication and timeliness.
  • When changes are made, or the actions do not match the meaning of the policies, it is obviously time to make adjustments.
  • Format or the style of writing, such as the appearance is important for readability and understanding.
  • Team members or other designated persons should be given the authority for interpreting changes and making revisions to current policies and manuals.
  • Policies can be reread within days of their original writing and words seem to suddenly appear awkward and information is misunderstood.
  • It is important to have careful proofreaders to help determine correctness in the writing or revision of any policies or procedures.
  • Matching the action with the written word and description is vitally important in the instruction of policies and other procedures.
  • The pages of each topical section should be numbered and three-hole punched.
  • Finish each section by noting the date of revision in a standardized location at the end of each section updated. The date of the change in the policy is very important, but the initials of preparer or authority are optional.
  • If policies are prepared for various topics as in the list shown above, build a handbook and create a table of contents, introduction, purpose, and then update as necessary.

Format, type font, or paper is optional. What is not optional is the most important aspect: Library policies must contain information that is accurate, easily understood, and current for every reader. Remember effective policies develop two necessary characteristics for the church library: that of being consistent and developing continuity for a well functioning library. Now is an excellent time to update, revise or initiate policies and procedures for the library where you serve.

Beth Andrews is director of media library ministries at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and a national church library ministry specialist.