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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (2023 Edition)

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.

Library Policies

Policymaking is one of the most difficult responsibilities of a trustee’s job, requiring an open mind, a thoughtful study of the issues involved and a deep understanding of the library’s mission and of the community it serves. In addition, clearly reasoned and written, up-to-date policies help the library fulfill its mission. Policies can also provide the library with critical legal protection.

Policies are the rules and principles that guide the operation and use of the library. They are required by Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) §90.2 as part of the public library minimum standards and must be reviewed at least every five years and available for public inspection both in print and on the library’s website. The Board is ultimately responsible for creating such policies, reviewing and revising them, and enforcing them with the assistance of the Library Director and staff. Policies must be clearly written and understandable. In practical terms, it is best practice for the Board to establish a Policy Committee and for the Library Director to bring established policies for review as well as any new policy recommendations to the Committee for review on a regular basis. This practice will allow the Board to keep up with new challenges or simply refresh the Board’s understanding of existing policies.

All policies should include a process by which the Board can respond to public comments or complaints. Policies are the board-approved rules of the library, whereas procedures are the administrative functions established by the director and staff which describe how things are done.

It is a good idea to categorize the library’s policies into internal (such as personnel, operational continuity, financial controls, etc.) and external (dealing with the public). These areas can be further broken down to suit your library’s particular organizational structure. There are many good resources for policy development, especially your public library system. Check the Resources section at the end of this chapter for sources of sample policies and policy development tips.  

Typically, library boards have written policy statements in many of the areas you see notated at the end of each chapter in this publication. The full checklist is included in the Appendices.  

All policies should be able to stand alone and be dated for the original adoption and review and/or revision dates. They should be recorded, compiled, and organized for ready access in a policy manual that is available both in print and, as mandated by state regulations, through the library website. Every trustee should have a copy of the policy manual and must be familiar with its contents. Careful attention should be paid to ensuring policy manuals are up to date. 

A thorough understanding of the library's policies is the foundation from which to adopt new policies, revise old ones, and interpret or defend the library’s rules. Archival records of superseded policies should be kept as part of a public library’s Records Retention Policy as per Local Government Schedule: LGS-1.

Personnel policies are critical to any successful operation and must be consistent, current and in conformance with applicable state and federal law. Each library staff member should receive a copy of the personnel policies at the time of employment. A written acknowledgement of receipt is important. Posting and updating personnel and other internal policies and procedures on a staff intranet is a common best practice. Personnel can be one of the most litigious areas of a library’s policy collection. Personnel policies of the library should be reviewed by legal counsel. If amended or revised, staff should once again be provided with the personnel policies and once again be asked to provide written acknowledgement of receipt. 

Policy Development

Policy development and policy revision often involve major decisions and considerable philosophical reflection. Boards must allow adequate time to discuss and assess policy options and ramifications. While trustees alone have the legal authority to make policy, the process works best when the library director and other key staff are closely involved. The staff has an important role in researching options, drafting recommendations, and presenting them to the Board for discussion and approval.

When establishing a new policy, the Board should seek sufficient information from the Library Director to discuss the issue with confidence. This should include:

  • A description of the issue that requires policy consideration;
  • A statement describing how a policy would contribute to the accomplishment of the library's goals and objectives;
  • A list of existing policies related to or affected by the proposed policy;
  • A list of the policy options available, with appropriate analysis (including effects of enforcing the policy, legal ramifications, and costs to resources, facilities, and staff); and
  • A recommendation, accompanied by the justification for changes in any existing policies.

When any existing policy is under evaluation, the Board should ask if it is:
In compliance with all laws and regulations;

  • Consistent with the library's Charter, mission, goals, and plans;
  • Consistent with the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement;
  • Complete, clearly written, and easily understandable;
  • In the best interest of the community at large, devoid of politics, prejudice, or favoritism;
  • Easily enforceable without undue burden on the library staff; and
  • Designed to maximize library services and access for the greatest number of users.

All policies must have the original date of the Board’s approval and the dates of any revisions noted in the document. Regular review and revision are essential and required under Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) §90.2. Copies of the policy manual must also be housed in the library and be easily accessible by the staff and the public. Posting public-facing (listed as “external” in the appendix) policies on the library’s website is now required under Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) §90.2.

The Library Director is responsible for instructing the staff about the policies that affect their employment and work and assuring that they fully understand these policies. Staff members are on the front lines when a policy question arises, and it is essential that they are able to explain all policies to the public in a clear and effective manner and to apply them consistently.

Policies should be considered living documents that are created and amended as circumstances, laws, and regulations change.

Related Policies and Documents:

  • Records Retention