SJDS Biblioteca Policies

The following policies were developed by John Furlong, the director of the Brentwood Public Library near St. Louis, MO, and a volunteer for the HJH Libraries for All program. The intent of the document is to set forth guidelines that will aid staff in decision making. However, as with most such materials, policy and practice sometimes diverge. Any library adopting policies must think carefully about whether they truly reflect the needs and accepted practices of the community, and must be flexible and creative. This is especially true when operating a library in the developing world, where each day presents new and unanticipated challenges.


Creating new library policies

San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Móvil has been in existence since 2001. The library started from just an idea and has grown to a full working library that serves this community and the surrounding communities. The ideas that formed the library have matured and developed over time and particular care has been taken to consider the areas of sustainability necessary to provide these services indefinitely. It is hoped that the things we have learned will help other developing libraries as they take form.

Policy statements for the library will help in shaping the direction of the library and will assure that all of the developing parties share the same ideals. Some of the description of policies listed here are ones that the SJDS Biblioteca has implemented as they became necessary as the library matured. While beginning libraries have many basic and essential needs, such as identifying operational money and materials, having some policies in place will help the library keep its goals and mission as it develops. Some policies can be broad and guide the library, while others can address specific issues. Procedures and rules are different from policies and are usually the result of putting policies into place. When thinking of the goals the library wants to achieve, it is important to also think through how the library will function in an every day work situation. Here we have outlined some policies that should be thought of as the library is developing. There isn’t a model policy that each library should follow. Sustainable policies are organic and represent the needs associated with each individual library.

One of the first policies that must be developed should be the mission statement for the library. The mission statement clearly defines what goals the library hopes to accomplish with its existence. The statement should be broad and encompassing in nature. The mission statement provides the core for the other policies to take shape and should ideally be re-evaluated every couple of years as the library grows and the mission of the library can grow and develop over time to include new goals the library has identified.

The collection development policy should be developed as the library begins building its collection. Creating a collection from donations, as many developing libraries must, can pose special challenges. If the materials collected don’t ultimately help the library fulfill its mission, the library will quickly falter. A collection development policy identifies two key elements; the community that the library serves and the means by which the collection will be built. Identifying the user community is an essential part of the collection development policy. Each community has special needs, special interests, etc. For example, SJDS serves a fishing population. A collection of materials has been created that will serve the fishermen. Also, a need was identified within the community for specialized health information for women. From this need a collection was created. The collection development policy also defines how materials will be selected. A beginning library will usually take in as many things as are offered, but in time, guidelines for the selection of material should be created in order to keep the collection at a reasonable size, while still meeting the needs of the community.

The format of materials the library wants for its patrons, should be clearly defined. If the library has money for materials, how this money will be spent should be identified within the policy. SJDS Biblioteca identified Spanish language materials for children as the primary recipient of its collection development funds. When choosing items for purchase, the collection development policy should define what selection tools will be used. Award winning titles, best sellers, reviews, and recommendations are tools that can help identify the best materials for purchase.

An essential part of the collection development policy is a statement that indicates that the library will try to serve all of its community through the collection of material representing many points of view. When a particular item in the collection is challenged for content, if the library has such a statement in place, the challenged material is much easier to defend. For example, the SJDS Biblioteca has been questioned about some of its science materials that describe evolution. If the material is ever formally challenged, the collection development policy will justify the reasoning behind having the material in the collection.

The Material Donation policy for the library works with the collection development policy in helping define what materials will be collected. The donation policy incorporates the collection development policy and the mission statement to clearly define what donations should be accepted and which ones should be declined. Criteria for acceptance or rejection of material should be defined. The donation policy should clearly state that once materials are donated to the library, they become the property of the library and the library has the sole responsibility for the items. This will help the library justify discarding the items when the items are no longer of use.

The Weeding policy helps to keep the size and vitality of the collection in accordance with the mission of the library. The weeding policy defines when materials are to be discarded from the collection. Weeding the collection can be an intensive task, so having a time-line for weeding, and staff members, who are responsible for the task, will help. The procedure outlined in the policy for the actual disposal of the items will also assure that materials do not go to waste.

The Circulation policy is essential to define the procedures for loaning of materials to patrons. The concept of loaning materials is a new one in the Central Americas and needs to often be explained to the local populations. The circulation policy should define the requirements for obtaining a library card, the length of the loan and the restrictions placed upon patrons who do not return items.

The dedication of its staff members and volunteers is essential to the library. Job descriptions for both staff members and volunteers assure that everyone understands how their work furthers the mission of the library. Since developing libraries are organic and staff members tend to complete a task as the need arises, job descriptions need to be broad with the ability to be expanded when needed. It is essential to recognize the special interests and experiences of staff members and use those talents in the work place.

A Staff Development policy recognizes the need for staff members to acquire new knowledge for the work environment. The policy can define the ways and means for staff members to gain this knowledge through print materials, workshops, etc. Often times staff development is a new concept for developing libraries and having the policy in place assures the staff that they are a needed and an essential element of the library.

The developing library depends upon the work of volunteers. The Volunteer Policy sets up guidelines for developing a volunteer program by defining who will be responsible for assigning work for the volunteers, what type of volunteers are needed and what is expected from the volunteers. A volunteer application form containing the contact information and interest and experiences of the volunteer should be kept on file.

The Móvil project is an essential element of the SJDS Biblioteca. However, it is not the only outreach arm of the library. The Community Outreach policy defines the paths the library will take in making its services known to the community at large. Organizations to be served, staff members who are responsible for outreach, and what type of events can all be defined. Schools and local officials should be recognized in the statement.

It is important to remember that this is not a definitive listing of all the policies that will ever be needed or that these policies cannot change. Libraries develop according to the needs of their constituents and therefore are organic in nature. The SJDS Biblioteca Móvil has been successful in accomplishing its mission and goals. By having the policies written down and accessible to all staff members and interested parties, the library is assured of its continued success in the years to come.

John Furlong
Brentwood Public Library
St. Louis, Missouri
Hester J. Hodgdon Libraries for All Program Advisor & Volunteer
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Further Reading:

Larson, Jeanette. “Model policies for small and medium public libraries.” New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, c1998.

Outagamie Waupaca Library System, 2006

Mission Statement

The mission of the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Móvil is to provide books, information and community center services to the people of San Juan del Sur and its surrounding communities.

Circulation Policy

The library encourages the use of its materials and the borrowing of its materials whenever possible.

To receive a library card, a form must be filled out listing the patron’s name, address, telephone number and other information that might be needed to contact the person if a problem exists. The form will be kept at the library. Following the acceptance of the form by the library, a library card will be issued and must be presented to borrow materials.

Each person may borrow 2 items for one week only. Teachers may borrow up to 10 books for three weeks for use in the classroom. No other books may be borrowed until all books owed are returned. The library relies on patrons to return materials when borrowed. If a patron abuses this rule, restrictions for use may be applied including revoked borrowing privileges and restricting attendance at library activities until the patron is again in good standing.

Collection Development Policy

The mission of the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Móvil is to provide information, books and community center services to the people of San Juan del Sur and its surrounding communities. The following guidelines will help to develop the collection of the library to its greatest potential and help it complete its mission.

The community of San Juan del Sur is a seaport town that serves as both a tourist destination and as a place of resources for the outlying rural communities and fishermen. The library will work toward providing a well balanced collection to meet all of the facets of this community with its resources. The freedom of access to information is a new concept but a respected and embraced idea in the community and the library shall present materials that represent multiple points of view whenever possible. Materials in the collection can consist of both print and audio/video format. The collection has to date been built on a combination of donations by publishers, individuals and through the purchase of materials. All of these means will be continued in the near future.

Resources for the children of the community should provide materials that create a sense of excitement. Books and similar materials are limited in the community and the joy of reading should be enhanced by any means possible; a sizeable amount of fiction materials for all developing age groups, including board books, chapter books and picture books should be readily available.

San Juan del Sur has several schools that provide education from kindergarten to high school. The library will provide supplementary resources for the schools as is possible. This includes the purchase or donation of text book materials that are being used in the schools. The purchase of juvenile non-fiction and reference materials will serve two purposes of providing information resources for general use and for homework help. The Móvil collection serving the surrounding communities shall have the same collection principles applied as budget permits.

The adult material collection will provide a resource for general reading pleasure and also address specific needs within the community served by the library. The fiction collection shall consist primarily of culturally appropriate Spanish materials. The English materials are accepted by donation but money is not currently budgeted for these materials. As the need arises, materials in other languages shall be added. The fiction collection shall consist of works by popular and classic authors and will include folkloric material.

The library has identified specific information needs within the community and has created specialized collections to provide resources for these specific needs in the non-fiction collection. Because of the recognized need, specific attention should be made to grow these collections. Some of these specialized collections are currently, requested titles for the fishermen’s reading collection, maternity collection, Latin Voice collection, Nicaraguan culture and history collection, material specifically addressing the indigenous population, language instruction, personal development and general health collections.

Community Outreach Policy

Simply by its existence, the library has created a new service organization available to the members of the community. In order to maintain the library and to have it grow, a community outreach policy is needed.

The library will operate according to the needed hours of the community. During its operating time, all services of the library will be available.

Staff members may be asked to go out into the community to make presentations or discussions to various agencies, including schools, NGOs, businesses and community groups about the services the library can provide. By doing so, the existence of the library and its services will become well known and appreciated. It is possible that the attendance at said meetings might require a staff member to work different hours than normal. The Móvil project relies upon the local Minister of Education to provide names of schools in the outlying community which need its services. Therefore, a good working relationship exists and should be maintained between the library and this office.

The Móvil project is the largest community outreach arm of the library. While it operates under the same guidelines of the library, special attention will be made to assure its success. The mobile collection, control and policies are and shall be maintained as a separate and autonomous system. An allocated amount of funding shall be applied each year to secure its place in the mission of the library. A separate protocol has been created and shall be maintained in regard to the mobile project. Public health and other community service providers are always welcome to participate in the scheduled trips and to provide their services in a coordinate effort. This is also the largest area of volunteer participation and special attention should be given to the activities and needs of volunteers in the mobile project.

Story hours, children’s theater production and craft classes for teachers and students are currently provided by two librarians who have been trained to teach crafting using materials purchased for this purpose. The resources of the craft department, tools, equipment and space to work, is to be provided for students and teachers to create school projects. This courtesy is provided for adults as well for community projects. This creates the sense that the library is a part of the community. The library welcomes classes offered by community members by appointment as well. Evening English classes shall be offered when possible either by volunteers or paid teachers.

Whenever possible, the library will participate in street fairs and local festivals. The library will have its own street fairs, parties and receptions to honor local holidays and to showcase its work to residents and visitors.

Material Donation Policy

Material donations to the library are needed and appreciated. Because of the limited funding of the library, these donations provide needed resources to help the library in achieving its mission. However, the library is limited in space and must use crucial judgments when adding materials. Donations made to the library will be evaluated to determine if they fit within the established collection development policy. Other criteria for acceptance or rejection include, but are not limited to; duplication, condition of material, and format (including durability).

English language materials are appreciated. However, the collection of English language materials must be grown by donation and not purchased and also kept in containment. The primary users of the library are Spanish speakers and readers. English language material however is identified as advancing the mission of the library and filling a recognized need as the local English speaking investor and retiree population increases. This population also represents volunteers and supporters of this particular library’s projects. Other areas of Nicaragua may not have this same demographic split and may not need to consider providing English language materials. All libraries in this region should consider searching out materials that address the needs of the various indigenous peoples of Nicaragua and all of Central America. An increasing collection of indigenous folktales, previously only part of the oral traditions is available and should be sought out either by purchase or as donation requests.

Once materials are accepted into the collection of the library, they become the sole property of the library and the library will be free to use the material in any way it deems appropriate. Donation receipts are sent to donors of materials as well as for financial donations. Restrictions on materials made by donors are highly discouraged. If materials are donated to the collection and do not meet the qualifications of this policy or the collection development policy, the items will be disposed of. Suitable uses for the materials shall be found, including distributing the materials to local charities, schools and other non profit organizations. The library also has a working relationship with local businesses that may sell donated and weeded books with the profit to be used for the community services provided by the library.

Toys games and craft materials are items that are always needed and are requested as donated materials. These materials are used in both the library and mobile projects. Surplus supplies and multiple copies of donated books shall be donated to other grassroots lending libraries as well. The Library in A Box program depends upon the ability to donate surplus books and supplies to encourage the start of new lending libraries. This program also depends of the willingness of staff and volunteers to share their enthusiasm and expertise in providing lending library services.

Patron Conduct Policy

The library creates a place for community services and learning. In order to create a place where all will feel welcome, the following restrictions on patron conduct will be applied whenever necessary.

Eating, drinking, or smoking is not allowed in the library. Pets are not allowed in the library. Clothing and personal hygiene must meet community standards for patrons and staff members. Shirts, pants and shoes are required to be worn when using the library. Sleeping is discouraged in the library. Patrons are not allowed to use the bathroom or any of the facilities to wash clothes or as a personal shower. Horseplay, angry confrontations, personal arguments or striking another person are also not allowed and the individuals involved will be asked to stop immediately. If a patron is abusing these rules, they will be informed of the policy and asked to stop. If the said behavior continues, the patrons shall be asked to leave the library and may eventually be barred from entering the library.

Crafts, projects and community services are a part of the library programs. Patrons are expected to share the available material, be courteous to one another, exercise a moderate amount of care and clean up after the project is completed. The craft materials are provided for everyone’s use and should not be used for other than the designated project or taken out of the library. Patrons must respect the materials of the library. If a patron is found abusing an item owned by the library, they shall be asked to leave the premises. The library relies on patrons to return materials when borrowed. If a patron abuses this rule, restrictions for use may be applied including revoked borrowing privileges.

It should always be encouraged and deemed appropriate for a patron to offer to help with or participate in a program or project. Patrons are invited to share a skill or interest they have with other members of the community in the library setting.

Library; a place where voices are lowered and minds are raised.

Staff Development Policy

The library will hire only the most qualified staff available to work at the library. However, the library must be responsible for training the staff to further enhance their job skills. The library will provide access for staff members to available classes, workshops, etc. that are available from the ALA and in Managua from ANIBIPA. This could include cross training with other libraries within the ANIBIPA Nicaragua En Tu Biblioteca campaign with their participating libraries. Print material that could enhance job performance or duties, should be made available during work hours. Workshops are part of what this library provides and staff members are always encouraged to attend. Staff members should be encouraged to share with supervisors or the Director, any suggestions they feel might provide better services to patrons or might make the work flow easier. In order to facilitate an open line of communication, the Director and Supervisors will meet at least once a month. Staff meetings should be conducted once a quarter for the purpose of exchanging ideas between staff members and to provide a sense of belonging. Refreshments should be considered appropriate and useful to this process. It is only possible to have a healthy volunteer program if the staff is stable and functioning well.

Meetings should always be held immediately or as quickly as possible when special needs arise. Professional demeanor and attitudes should be stressed at staff meetings and frank discussions about problems or existing situations should be encouraged. Staff members should have a clear understanding of who they can bring situations to and everyone should be encouraged to talk freely to the Director. It is the responsibility of the Director to offer authority, autonomy and esteem to each member of the staff. It is especially important if the staff members are locals (Nicaraguan) and the director is not, that the traditional choices and ideas be honored above the ideas and concepts of the director. Daily decisions should be the realm of the supervisors not the director and whatever solutions can be found before a matter is taken to the director should be applauded and encouraged. It should be the policy to bring both the situation and several ideas for solutions when a meeting is called. In these cases at this library, the supervisors’ solutions have been seen to be very creative and more than sufficient, often brilliant.

As the library is a community program, staff members are encouraged to cover one another for appropriate time off to attend children’s school functions or for family health emergencies. Courtesy to one another is always required and personality conflicts, internal issues or problems should never be discussed outside of the library for any reason and shall be considered grounds for dismissal. This is especially crucial in Central American facilities where controversy in work relationships have historically provided the drama, entertainment and gossip for the community. If libraries are to be seen as service oriented and of value to the community, professional staff behavior is a crucial aspect of staff training.

Timeliness is essential as we are providing a needed and expected community service. It is always important that the person responsible to open and close the building must do so in a timely way. It is never appropriate to be closed for any reason during the expected business hours. When the library must be closed during business hours for funerals, illness, electrical failure and for holiday hours, a notice should be posted on the door explaining the reason and stating when the library will reopen. Our community has made it clear how much the library is valued which increases the responsibility to have the services dependably available.

Weeding policy

Materials that no longer fit within the stated mission of the library should be withdrawn from the collection. This may include multiple copies and materials that are damaged, include obsolete information, or are no longer used. Decisions for removing the items will be based on decisions by the Director. Staff is always encouraged to present materials they believe should be removed from the collection.

When single copies of new books are provided, equal numbers of books of a similar type may be moved to the mobile program or saved for donations to the new libraries. Books in Spanish that are still usable and not needed for the mobile project collection will be saved for the Library in A Box Seed Collection donations or the newly formed libraries

Attempts will be made to place books in English and other items that are still useable with local communities or organizations that can use the materials. Local bookstores or other retail establishments may be contacted to purchase the books and the proceeds can be used to help pay for the community services provided by the library.