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Your Name and Title:  Joe Stoner, Branch Manager

Library, School, or Organization Name: Newark Library, part of Alameda County Library 

Co-Presenter Name(s): none

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: California

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience(s): public library staff

Short Session Description (one line): Based on the book Practical Wisdom: the right way to do the right thing, I will share several examples of challenging unwritten rules that made library use needlessly difficult for members.  

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):


  • Story: A single mom needed to print a form at library to apply for welfare. She nearly got trespassed from the library because her account was blocked for fines and someone else let her borrow their library card to use the computer.
  • Summary of Practical Wisdom book, by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe. No policy or rule can ever address the nuance of every situation.  As a society, we have become overly reliant on rules to get people to do the right thing.  The book uses examples of judges, lawyers, doctors, teachers.  This is not to say that rules and policy are useless.  It does mean rules and policy must be interpreted.  Extenuating circumstances matter.  Story of hospital janitor(s) from book.  
  • Story: Over enforcement of library card replacement fee.  
  • 15-minute rule: A library system I worked in developed a rule that you can only help people for 15 minutes because the library is too busy to do more.  
  • Story: an elderly man needed help on the computer leading me to violate several unwritten rules.  

Conclusion:  I believe libraries are the help desk for the community.  No request is off limits unless it is illegal or unethical (like the man who tried to get us to help him forge a license plate for his little cargo trailer.).  To provide this level of service takes some creativity, daring, and most of all empathy. I am not perfect at this.  I still have questions, fears, and anxieties around how much to help people.  

Thank you!


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