Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

What is your #1 library marketing worry or concern right now?

In many parts of the United States, library boards and senior staff have decided to reopen in the next few weeks. My social media feeds are filled with posts from library staff airing concerns over a return to “normal” library duties.

The plans vary. But it appears that most institutions are slowly phasing in services. Some libraries are doing curbside only. Some are opening drive-thrus. And some are fully allowing patrons back inside their physical buildings. 

When your library settles on what to do, it will be your job to let your staff and community know what’s happening. This week, I spent a lot of time compiling the best advice I could offer to help you communicate a library reopening during a pandemic.

As you know, communicating is SO important. Your staff, your regular customers, and your community need to know what you are doing and what changes you are making to keep them safe. They will need you to say it more than once. And they will need time to digest all this information.  

A guide to communicating your library’s new policies

It starts with the staff. So many libraries think about customer communications first and forget that staff need to know what is happening. If your library is contemplating reopening, be open and honest with your staff about all aspects of what that will entail. Ask for feedback and listen respectfully to staff concerns and ideas. Adjust your plan where you can.

And expect pushback. It’s uncomfortable. People are scared. And there are members of your staff who will be vocal about their disapproval. If you are a library leader, find ways to address the concerns of staff. The Library Management Group on Facebook is a helpful resource for advice from other managers.

When sharing news with your community, use all your tactics. Create a page on your website where you put all your re-opening information. Link to it from your homepage and, for the time being, in the bio of all your social media accounts.

Make a video, or several videos, to explain the changes. If your library has accounts on multiple social media platforms, use all of them to tell people about your plans. And make your re-opening plans the exclusive focus of a social media live event. You can really build excitement and interest by publicizing the livestream where you’ll unveil the plans and take direct questions from the audience in the comments or chat.

Send emails to your community and patrons. Ask community partners to help share information about your reopening. Finally, pitch your reopening as a story to your local media. 

Create one core message and repeat it. You are going to have to say the same things and repeat the same information before the changes sink in.

Remember the Marketing Rule of 7? People need to hear a message seven times before they are compelled to take an action. It applies in this instance. And, with the vast amount of information coming at them from various sources, your community may need MORE than seven messages to fully grasp your library’s new service requirements. 

For maximum effect, settle on a few sentences as your core message or talking points. Repeat those on all your channels.

For social media, post your message at varying times of the day to make sure that it’s seen by as many followers as possible. Add your message to all your email marketing campaigns. Ask staff to practice your message as talking points so they can deliver a consistent answer when they receive questions from people at the desk, at the door, or by phone. Add the message to your holds slips and receipts. Add your message to videos. If you do live virtual events, ask staff to repeat the message before they go into their main program. 

It’s going to seem redundant to you. But a consistently repeated messaging campaign works.

But don’t overwhelm people. I received a reopening email from a library this past week with no less than 18 calls to action! It was overwhelming. And I didn’t click on any of them.

Don’t make that mistake. The services you provide are going to be different for different people. If you can break your messages up by audience, do so. And instead of sending one message with EVERYTHING in it, send two or three messages containing your core talking points, plus two to three details that pertain to a targeted audience. Your readers will be better able to digest and retain the information.

Use your signage wisely. I know many libraries are putting a good deal of information on their signage to keep interactions with the public to a minimum. But remember that too much signage will look crowded, cluttered, and overwhelming to your patrons. Take some time to plan where you’re place signage, and what they will say, for maximum effect.

Don’t forget to keep stakeholders and legislators in the loop. It’s important to send regular updates about what your library has been doing during the shutdown and what it is doing now as it plans to resume physical service. Highlight the many ways your collection was used even when your building was closed.

Legislators love numbers… so check your library statistics for use of digital resources. Point out trends. Show how your library helped the community cope with the stresses of the shutdown. 

Why is this so important? Right now, we must send the message that the library is always valuable. A time is coming when the economic crisis caused by this pandemic will lead to budget cuts. We need to do everything we can on the front side of this crisis to save as much of our funding as possible. And that starts now, with communication. 

Resources to help you deal with reopening

Self-Care for Library Social Media Staff in the Midst of a Crisis like #COVID-19

Don’t Stop Communicating! Tips for Handling Library Promotion Overload During a Crisis

Libraries and Social Media Facebook Group

Libraries Step Up in a Time of Crisis Facebook Group

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on the “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.