Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 6 June 2002

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Dealing with Policies 
by Kathy Dempsey 

Every library has policies. You need them to govern the way things run, to keep your patrons happy, to keep your world (or your system) from crashing down around you. 

It's one of life's little ironies, though, that everybody needs policies, yet nobody wants to write them. They can be very sticky little documents, with a thousand pitfalls awaiting the unsuspecting author. Brave souls who try to draft these documents can discover that for every sentence they write, they offend or displease one group or another. Sooner or later, somebody needs to make the hard calls and decide: Do we believe in this clause enough to keep it in, even though it will cause our users (and us!) grief? Should this section be a hard-and-fast rule, or should we allow for exceptions? Will we fall on the side of the ALA here, or our local constituents? Will we alert the police or our administrators about pornography viewing, or will we handle it ourselves? 

I'm sure that the old maxim "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time" comes up a lot when librarians are doing this sort of work. 

These are all reasons why we thought this would make a different and interesting theme for Computers in Libraries. Technology has brought you even more reasons to need policies, and has made it necessary for you to revise many that were working just fine before, thank you. 

We're glad that, in these pages, we can bring you the stories of how your colleagues wrote their way around two of today's hottest buttons—Internet filtering and handling patrons who are viewing offensive material on public-area computer screens. If you've been avoiding these issues yourselves, take heart! These authors show that you can walk the fine line between freedom and safety. Maybe their experiences can help you. 

Interestingly, we have one feature about working without policies! You know that they can really get in the way, and that there are times when you'll never get something done because of bureaucratic red tape. Well, here's hope! These librarians started a new technology training position and decided they'd just let it define itself. They've proved that some things actually can be unregulated and still work very well. 

And as always, our faithful columnists jump into the act too. Janet Balas does her usual great job finding "online treasures" that you can use—in this case, Web sites that are about policies or sites that contain sample policies for you to study. Donna Stevenson talks about her own experience being "the Web police." Scott Brandt discusses what he knows best, which is policies about technology training. (Remember, you don't write guidelines only to keep people from being bad! Policies should also be part of your strategic planning.) And Michael Schuyler, this month, chooses simply to be Michael Schuyler, which is always a treat. Enjoy! 

Kathy Dempsey, Editor

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