Management in Public Libraries


Public libraries are found all over the country, even in the smallest of towns. Towns can have a single, small library that has limited hours, or multiple branch libraries in larger cities. Public libraries are more than just buildings that hold books. They are meeting places, reference centers, safe spots for kids and teens, technology hubs, and so much more. With all of these activities going on at a public library, it makes it that much more important to have a good management system in place to keep the library running smoothly. “Public librarianship ranges from service in small communities where the library worker might take on multiple tasks from budgeting to story-telling to more focused service in large systems and highly specialized practice in local history, genealogy, service to different language users, or web development," (McCook, 4345).

Library Board of Trustees and the Library Manager

A library is not run solely by a manager alone. The Library Board of Trustees and the manager of the library will work together on certain tasks for the library. A publication called the Trustee Fact File edited by Robert P. Doyle and Robert N. Knight, published by the Illinois Library Association and the Illinois State Library, lists these tasks. A few are highlighted in the list below, and further below, a few are described.
  • "Write and maintain an official mission statement for the library"
  • "Establish and support library policies"
  • "Develop an annual budget"
  • "Promote the library in the community"
  • "Authorize salary and benefit plans for library staff"

Additionally, the library board of trustees is the group that select the manager for the library. In a job posting, they will list the qualities and abilities they look for in a manager. In a publication by the Detroit Suburban Librarians' Roundtable Succession Planning Committee lists five characteristics to look for in a quality manager: common sense, decision-making ability, people skills, vision, and integrity. The paper also includes a sample job listing that has areas of responsibility and desired qualifications. The paper can be located here: A Library Boards Practical Guide to Finding the Right Library Director.

Library Policies

“Library managers have historically created policies that codify choices and best practices in areas such as personnel, collection development and delivery of services,” (Staninger, 1). A policy is a course or principal of action designed by a business, government, or individual. For a public library, policies are in place for staff to “provide consistency for patrons and staff, help to resolve misunderstandings, reduce incidents of conflict and help to protect from litigation,” (Mid-Hudson Library System). This resource gives an extensive list of every policy that a library might have. A library will determine its policies based on its size and its needs. Not every single library may need a tutoring policy, a document destruction policy, nor may every library need an e-Reader lending policy just yet. Policies change from time to time, for reasons such as the library acquiring an e-Reader or changing computer lab rules. Below is a list of and descriptions of basic library policies:
  • Card Policy: This policy normally includes the rule that each patron should be able to provide proof of address within the library districts to obtain a card. An I.D. card is required as well. Card policies also contain the rules for those under the age 18 that want to get a library card. These require that a parent or guardian be present and make sure the person holding the card is aware of the responsibilities.
  • Borrowing Policy: Borrowing policies contain the rules that come with taking materials out of the library. They list the number of each material patrons are allowed to have out at a time. For example, they can state a patron may have out 20 books, 5 DVDs, and 3 magazines at a time. This policy will also inform the patron how long each material checks out for and how much the overdue fees will cost. The policy will also describe the steps the library will take when its material is damaged.
  • Computer Usage Policy: Computer usage policies will let the patron know what they can and cannot do using library computers. These will include rules that the patron may not download programs or install software on computers or the time limits that patrons may use the computers per day. These policies may also be combined with the Internet usage policy. This part of the policy will normally state what is appropriate for viewing on library computers. These will also have instructions on what conditions the library will allow children and teenagers to use computers. There may be additional extensions on this policy regarding any pieces of technology – digital cameras, iPads, e-Readers – that the library may own.
  • Collection Development Policy: This policy focuses on the formats of materials that will be included in the collection. These can quite often focus on being inclusive with different types of interests and groups in society. They will further include criteria for choosing the collection and maintenance for it as well. The policy can be divided by the adult collection, teen collection, children’s collection, etc. Decisions about weeding will also be included in the collection development policy. (Collection Development Wiki page)
  • Disaster Planning: The policy for disaster planning will have several areas. These can be for fire, power outages, snow, health emergencies, bomb threat, flooding, severe storms, etc. It is of tremendous importance for libraries to have disaster plans in place considering the collections and equipment they have in their possession.
  • Patron Conduct Policy: This is written to ensure that patrons know the behavior expected in the library setting. It will discuss whether or not the library will allow food, drink, or cell phones. Additionally there are rules for attire, unattended children, criminal behavior, etc.

Strategic Planning:

What is strategic planning? What does it mean to a public library? A strategic plan is what the library hopes to do in the future. It includes the ends that the library wants to achieve. By creating a strategic plan, a library can set goals for what it wants to accomplish and the steps to take to do so. With increasing amounts of new technology, it can be helpful for a library to create a strategic plan to integrate these technologies in its programming. The mission, vision, and values of a public library are included in its strategic plan. A mission statement is the purpose of the library. A vision statement, as defined by Terrie Temkin, is “a picture of how the community will in fact be different as a result of the organization having accomplished what it set out to do,” (Temkin). A libraries values guide its operation. “Values are what make libraries effectively responsive to their patrons and create a workplace where the efforts of librarians and library staff proceed in concert to best serve the patrons and the institution with which the library is affiliated,” (Staninger, 2).

In 1966, the ALA started the Social Responsibilities Round Table along with a Coordinating Committee on Library Service to the Disadvantaged. It was decided that the 1966 Standards for Public Library Systems no longer addressed the needs of the people. They were deemed “unacceptable to the field for many different reasons; including their perceived irrelevancy to emerging “modern” and evidenced-based management methods, i.e., output-driven effectiveness measures related to local conditions and goals,” (McCook, 4342). The system was changed to focus on community based needs chosen by the people instead of chosen by experts. There was then a major shift in the identity of public librarianship and the public librarian: “from humanitarian/ scholarly to bureaucratic/manager practitioner,” (McCook, 4342). In 2008, Strategic Planning for Results was printed. This book is a guide to the new practice of public librarianship in the United States.

Below are the 18 service responses written in the Strategic Planning for Results: (McCook, 4342)

1. “Be an Informed Citizen: Local, National and World Affairs.”
2. “Build Successful Enterprises: Business and Nonprofit Support.”
3. “Celebrate Diversity: Cultural Awareness.”
4. “Connect to the Online World: Public Internet Access.”
5. “Create Young Readers: Early Literacy.”
6. “Discover Your Roots: Genealogy and Local History.”
7. “Express Creativity: Create and Share Content.”
8. “Get Facts Fast: Ready Reference.”
9. “Know Your Community: Community Resources and Services.”
10. “Learn to Read and Write: Adults, Teens and Family Literature.”
11. “Make Career Choices: Job and Career Development.”
12. “Make Informed Decisions: Health, Wealth and Other Life Choices.”
13. “Satisfy Curiosity: Lifelong Learning.”
14. “Stimulate Imagination: Reading, Viewing and Listening for Pleasure.”
15. “Succeed in School: Homework Help.”
16. “Understand How to Find, Evaluate, and Use Information: Information Fluency.”
17. “Visit a Comfortable Place: Physical and Virtual Spaces.”
18. “Welcome to the United States: Services for New Immigrants.”

The Strategic Plan of the American Library Association can be found through this link: ALA 2015 Strategic Plan.
The plan is a PDF file link at the bottom of the article.

Also, more information can be found on the Strategic Planning Wiki page.

Elements of and for Successful Management

Staff Motivation and Engagement
If you are planning on upgrading procedures or technologies or even simply instituting a rearrangement of your collections, it is important to make sure all staff are involved in education about the process and justification. Not only will whole staff education mean that both staff and institutional changes be up-to-date, it will guarantee that patron questions about the new changes can be answered regardless of what they are directed to.

When in the role of manager, it is important to be able to engage actively with employees. Often, employees will either view a job as a career or simply something to pay the bills. By talking with employees, a manager can learn what goals each employee has and can help that employee work with them. Once a manager engages with the employees, the next step is to "build a collage of images to fill the operational and strategic needs of the unit in the best way possible and this requires the ability to look at situational needs and engage with employees with a willingness to be flexible," (Moseby, 4). It is important for managers to be able to communicate and with with employees on their needs but also make sure the manager is getting what the employee to do the job successfully. The manager can "set this picture [the employee] in the larger frame of the organization's needs and understand where one can work to develop the image to enhance particular elements" (Moseby, 5). On the other end of the spectrum, Staninger described that ineffective leadership will include elements of adherence to negative values, micromanagement, moral disengagement, and the reluctance to involve library stakeholders in decision making.

Set Benchmarks
In setting benchmarks for your staff or volunteers, it lets your staff know that they are not expected to master everything immediately. Progressive benchmarks allow for staff to take the time to fully understand each device, service, or collection they will work with thus making them better staff for all patrons.

Engage with the Community
Without establishing solid contacts with community leaders, it becomes incredibly difficult to determine how best to serve that community. The establishment of supported community contacts through staff and community leaders creates a space within which discussion of community needs and library services can be held to the betterment of the library and the improvement of service to community patrons.

Traditional vs. New Management Strategies

At first thought, the sound of outsourcing libraries is terrifying and seemingly impossible. Library services can’t be sent oversees or beyond the town or county in which the particular system is located. But, in regards to management, outsourcing in libraries doesn’t mean anything of the kind.

Outsourcing library management really means altering the familiar locus of ultimate management of the library as a whole from the mode that is currently employed. Libraries can be managed by a city or county, most commonly, and for public libraries, this requires a continual interaction with city or county library boards that serve as the checks on budgets or facilities updates.

One of the first public libraries to outsource their staffing to a contractor instead of the traditional model of being managed by the city or country was the Riverside County Library in California. Because of a lack of familiarity with running a public library, the county thought it best to put the responsibility of management in the hands of an outside contractor with a proven track record of successful management.
Their experience was by no means typical of the time, though more library systems have adopted the same choice in the intervening years (Hall 43).

While outsourced management might look different from the inside, the outward effect should reflect the expectation of a public library’s functions. Libraries operating under contract offer the same array of services and collections as those operating under traditional models, the only difference comes in staffing practices and where the ultimate responsibility for institutional management falls.

Sustainability, Funding, and Advocacy

While the usage of public libraries continues to go up, funding to keep these institutions continues to go down. Librarians must learn to adapt and employ fresh thinking in order to survive. Ensuring the sustainability of public libraries should include attention to strategic planning, community building, and advocacy.

Statistics show that public library use continues to increase. The most recent statistics reported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) show that “visitation and circulation per capita have both increased in public libraries over the past 10 years. Per capita visitation increased 5 percent from the prior year.” The IMLS also found that “the role of public libraries in providing Internet resources to the public continues to increase. The availability of Internet-ready computer terminals in public libraries has doubled over the past 10 years. Internet PC use has also increased.” (Hopper)

When times are tough for your library, an immediate response might be to slash programs and staff in reaction to budget constraints. The important thing to remember, is cutting these things is not your only option. A wiser approach is to plan and try to find long term solutions.

Take the time to examine all of your library’s programs, services, marketing, and fundraising activities and identify which ones are successful. Only after this can you begin to trim things down. Begin by eliminating those that cost excessive staff time, or are not producing strong results that will yield long-term support for the library.

One of the easiest ways to gain more support for the library, is just to get outside of the building. Librarians must go where the people are, and actively engage in the community so the library can be seen as integral to the community infrastructure.

With limited funds, it might not be time to add new fundraising staff, or to host large fundraising events, but it is wrong to think that cutting fundraising staff will save the library money. Instead, focus on fundraising activities that have a solid track record of engaging supporters for the library.

When we use the term fundraising, we generally think of annual campaigns, capital campaigns, and planned giving. But for libraries, the majority of funding comes from public sources. Creating grassroots, citizen-based advocacy campaigns is a good way to secure and expand this kind of support. During critical times, advocacy moves right to the top of the priority list of support activities. Having a solid advocacy program is essential to any library.

Advocacy coalitions are effective ways to band seemingly disparate groups together to secure public funding. Advocacy initiatives also attract corporate support from businesses that believe healthy communities attract and retain good employees, where everyone thrives in the long term.

In addition to fundraising, libraries can receive funding through grants. More information about grants can be found through the Grant Writing Wiki page.


Blowers, Helene. "Benchmarking Your Technology Edge." Computers In Libraries 32.5 (2012): 26-28. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Doyle, Robert P. Knight, Robert N. Trustee Facts File 3rd Edition. Illinois Library Association. 20044. Web.

Hill, Heather1. "A Look At Public Library Management Outsourcing." Public Libraries 51.3 (2012): 42-47. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Hopper, Lyn. "Planning to Thrive." Public Libraries. 52.3 (2013): 26-28. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

McCook, Kathleen de la Peña. Katharine J. Phenix . Public Librarianship. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition. Taylor and Francis: New York, Published online: 09 Dec 2009; 4340-4346.

Moseby, Pixey Anne. Engaging Leadership: Understanding and Respecting the Shades of Gray. Library Leadership and Management 27.3 (2013): 1-6.

Staninger, Steven W. Identifying the Presence of Ineffective Leadership in Libraries. Library Leadership and Management 26.1 (2012): 1-7.

Temkin, Terrie. Defining Mission, Vision, and Values. Philanthropy Journal. September 2008. Web.

Trustee Resources: Sample Public Library Policies and Development Tips. Mid-Hudson Library System. September 2012. Web.