August 15th, 2018

Library Chat: Social media policy on MH Public Library’s radar

By Medicine Hat News on June 8, 2018.

The library’s approach to social media was recently questioned and in response, the library board is working on a social media policy. A policy might even be approved by the board by the time this column is published. This is a good opportunity to think about what policies are, how they should be developed and how they steer the library.

Policies guide an organization’s actions in a particular area. Alberta legislation states that public library policies are approved and adopted by the library board, a group appointed by municipal council to represent the community. The Medicine Hat Public Library board reviews its policies regularly, writing and rewriting policy as required. There is a list of policies that libraries must have; social media is not on that list but I’m starting to think it should be! In the absence of policy the library can and often must take action and do things, but having policy ensures that actions are planned, defensible and in line with the board’s wishes.

Policy writing should begin with values and principles. What does the board consider to be important? For example, Medicine Hat Public Library’s Plan of Service states that, among other things, we value both intellectual freedom and connecting community. How do those values interact? Could emphasizing one in a social media policy undermine the other? If so, what balance should be sought?

A social media policy should consider the library’s objectives when using these tools. For example, does the library seek to use social media for marketing and promotion, similar to a sign on a building? Or is it a place for free and open discussion? Or some mix of these and more?

A policy should fit the situation and consider real-world realities. Social media has the power to connect people, enable communication and get messages out quickly. It also has a reputation for amplifying nastiness and incivility. How can a policy leverage the strength of social media tools while avoiding their pitfalls?

Finally, a policy should guide staff as they implement and administer. What should staff do in certain situations? How should they deal with this or that challenge? One advantage to defining these rules in advance is it makes actions impartial and consistent and therefore fair. Everyone will be treated the same; the rules are defined and the same for all.

I invite you to look at all the library’s policies. They are public documents and they are available on our website. They may not be entertaining to read, I will admit, but they are among the library’s most important guiding lights.

Ken Feser is chief librarian at the Medicine Hat Public Library.

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