Too many rules?

June 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm 3 comments

One of the blogs I read as time allows is Jay Shepherd’s “Gruntled Employees.” Shepherd is an employment lawyer who focuses on protecting and defending employers. Interestingly, his blog is focused on treating employees humanely, with dignity, and respecting them as adults. Not every post applies to my line of work, but I’ve gotten several good insights from Shepherd. I especially love his minimalist take on policies and rules.

A couple of weeks ago he mentioned a profile of Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whose philosophy is:

I want there to be an atmosphere where they want to show up every day and do the right thing. We can have rules out the [expletive], but if they want to do the right thing, we’ll be a better team. It’s about consistency.

I love this! Too often we are tempted to create rules for every situation. A new problem crops up? Make a rule to deal with it! In libraries we do this both with staff and with customers. Shepherd, on the other hand, recommends policies that are as brief as possible. He likes a two-word policy manual for staff (“respect others”) and a two-word corporate blogging policy (“be professional”). How great is that? It might seem impossible for most organizations to attain such extreme brevity in their policies, but I think it’s really good to set simplicity and clarity as a goal. Don’t create an environment where people have to try to remember tiny nuances of accumulated years’ worth of policies. Much better if they just want to “show up every day and do the right thing.”

I find that the more specific our staff policies are, the more questions I get about loopholes and possible exceptions – it’s like we are teaching people to follow the letter of the law instead of the spirit. The Use Policy that we have for customers is far from perfect, but we do have one piece that I love: we prohibit “Interfering with other customers’ use of library facilities or staff’s ability to perform their duties.” This is sort-of our catchall, and to be honest it could just about cover all the other items we list. I used to think it was too vague, but now it’s  my go-to policy. It’s the “respect others” of our use policy. Rather than try to detail every possible violation, this item basically just says “use the library in a way that respects other people and their right to use the library, too.” The wording may not be perfect, but it works pretty well. I’d love to come up with a staff policy that’s so succinct!

Oh, and “rules out the [expletive]” is my new favorite phrase. 🙂


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My new mantra Short takes


  • 1. amylee39  |  June 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Genesis
    Nice blog and great post! My supervisor forwarded your link to me and you’re now on my blogroll. I’m a librarian in Michigan and I blog about all sorts of stuff including family, life in general and libraries.

    We’ve been discussing the concept of too many rules/not enough rules/what’s the best balance for a while now. I personally can relate to The Use Policy at your library. Succinct yet powerful. I’m going to try to introduce something like this with my three kids too – let’s see how successful I am!


    • 2. Genesis  |  June 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks for your comment! If you come up with any great policies (either for work or family), let me know! I’m always interested. I’d love to check out your blog, too – feel free to post a link here.

  • 3. amylee39  |  June 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I’ll keep you posted on the policies. My blog is called Not Your Mother’s Weblog and you can find me at

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce



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