BCLTA Governance Workbook: Establishing Policy

Policy is a formal expression of opinion that clarifies the board’s expectations of what is to be done and identifies the future outcomes the board hopes to achieve. Ideally, policy builds continuity, enduring values, fairness, and equity into the governance of the public library beyond the term of any board or individual trustee.

Practice and precedent may inform policy, but they are not policy. Policy guides the work of the organization.

Policy may be subject to interpretation. Board-approved policies are intended to guide future discretionary actions of the board, the library director,  and the staff in a consistent manner.

Policies are for

  • guiding the board in its roles and responsibilities
  • guiding the library director in the implementation of board direction
  • providing direction and consistency in providing services, resources, and space to the community
  • informing decision making in response to problem situations
  • protecting the rights of patrons and staff

Common areas of board policy are

  • governance (role of board chair, board orientation and development, committees, code of ethics, trustee roles and expectations, policy review and development)
  • human resources (collective agreement, roles, procedures, salaries, wages, benefits, volunteers)
  • financial and infrastructure management (approval thresholds, budget development, reserves, capital planning, audits, sponsorships, fundraising, reporting)
  • collection and resource management (purpose of collection, intellectual freedom, internet use)
  • programs and services (patron experience, patron code of conduct, service expectations, borrowing policies, facility use, partnering, community engagement or development)
  • relationships (service agreements, Friends of the Library, foundations, schools, resource sharing, local First Nations and Indigenous organizations)

Policy Development

For much of the public library’s policy needs professional staff are best positioned to draft successful policy. Professional staff, with their areas of expertise and familiarity with the operations of the public library, can draft policy that is in alignment with board direction and priorities and is practical for implementation.

If your governance team is updating policies or drafting a new policy, it is recommended to review other BC public library policies and to ask the board chair and library director questions about how that policy (or policies) are serving the needs of their public library. There is rarely a need to draft a policy from nothing – know your organization’s needs and where possible adapt policies from others.