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Purple Library #1: Policy Scapegoat

In order to initiate change one must feel that there is a need for change. Or at least that’s what my management professor always told me. These were the thoughts going through my head as I was trying to piece together my first post on the “Purple Library”. It seems every library blog is pushing change in one form or another and the Purple Library is nothing different. The one main difference I wish to present is WHY we have to change. Because finding the “why” is the first hurdle in actually changing.

This week I invite you to think carefully when a patron asks “why” something is done a certain way. Why can’t they use MySpace or an Instant Messenger? Why is Internet time limited to an hour when nobody else is waiting? It may be frustrating to answer questions like this but give the patron reasoning behind what you do. If you find that you are saying, “it’s library policy” there could be a problem.

Sometimes, “it’s our policy” is the ultimate scapegoat. You don’t have to give reasoning because the ever-powerful policy has decreed it to be so. But there is a great negative effect to the policy scapegoat and that’s it purpose. When you use policy as your excuse you are trying to get the patron to give up or leave.

Why would you want to get rid of a possible/current patron?


I was at Cedar Point this weekend (which is why this post is occurring so late this Sunday). While I was there I noticed a great example of the policy scapegoat:

A family of four boarded a train behind the group I was with. The family was obviously exhausted ready to rest their feet, as was I. There was, however, a slight problem that was pointed out by a Cedar Point employee. After the family boarded the train the employee informed the family that they could not have a ball on the train, unless it was in a bag. The lady in the group tried to stick the ball in her bag at no avail. After seeing the women struggle the employee informed the women that that would not suffice and they would have to throw away the ball or get off the train. The woman, as a last resort, stuffed the ball under her sweatshirt asking if that would work and if not, then why? The employee told her it wouldn’t work and that it was the policy of the theme park. The family angrily exited the train.

What is wrong with that picture? For one, the family was sent away from using a service they wanted to utilize. I could think of a number of actual reasons why there would be a “no ball” policy, but the employee never chose to elaborate. It would have been nice to hear the employee treat the family more like customers. In the end the park was left with upset customers and negative PR from anyone that comes in contact with the family or reads this post.

So, if a patron comes in asking “why” something can’t happen, explain the reasons. If you don’t know “why,” it may be time to change a policy or two.

“The Big Moo” reading assignment: Why Ask Why? found on page 167.

Why Ask Why (.pdf) is provided as a free sample on the Big Moo website.

Click here for more information on the “Purple Library” mini-blog series.

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