I attended an Affordable Care Act seminar today. One of the speakers said something that really stuck in my mind, hours later. He said that before the public comes to public libraries to sign up for (and get help with) health care on October 1st in accordance with the ACA, library staff should take a look at their policies to see in what ways they may help or hinder that process.
For example, the speaker offered an 800 number to an agency who can help people with the application process. If we do not allow patrons to talk on cell phones while on our public computer terminals, that could pose a problem. To give another example, libraries with short time limits on their public terminals are likely to find people bumping up against that time limit, unable to complete the long online health care application required.
Each library sets policies that are specific to their buildings, their communities, their staff, and their technology. For example, a small library with fewer computer terminals to offer probably requires shorter time limits per session than a large library with a multitude of computer terminals throughout their building. The policy is set in the interest of fairness.
When a new, nation-wide change is set in motion – one that directly impacts libraries – we should take a close look at those policies and make sure that they are still fair. Perhaps small libraries with short time limits can set aside a few hours every Saturday morning for just health care application time. Or maybe libraries with separate computer labs can set aside that space a few hours a week for people who need to be on the phone while they are on the computer. A room with a door that closes separates phone-talkers from other computer users. These are temporary policy tweaks, not permanent changes. Open enrollment season will end and we’ll all go back to our regular ways of doing things.
As the nature of library use changes, so must our policies. Of course, we can’t just change our policies for every circumstance that arises, but we can be flexible with these bigger-impact situations. We should be grateful that people are coming to the library, that they trust our staff enough to choose us for help.
(Ok – some extra training for our reference staff on this whole ACA business would be GREAT, but I am happy that we can expect more people to find the library relevant to their needs.)