Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

A few weeks ago, a good number of you were kind enough to respond to this question, “What is your biggest library marketing concern right now?” As you can imagine, many of those worries are not all marketing related. In fact, as the responses came in, I realized they all fell into one of four categories: delivering a clear message about reopening and new safety precautions, keeping everyone safe, dealing with angry patrons, and communicating the library’s value.

I decided to research resources to help library staff tackle each of these concerns. I also mixed in a little of my own advice, gathered from my experience as a former public library staff member and my current work consulting with library staff.

I’d also love to hear your tips for dealing with these four concerns. If you have advice to add for your fellow library staffers, please share it in the post comments.

Clear messaging 

Libraries are struggling to make sure everyone understands the new expectations for library service. Many libraries have fragmented social media accounts, with different branches or departments running their own Facebook pages and Instagram feeds. That makes the job twice as difficult.

Messaging is the most important job for libraries right now. Before anyone posts anything on social media, you must do one thing: Create a core set of talking points. Commit to repeating them on every promotional platform. 

Write posts word-for-word and send them to any staff handling social media accounts. Tell them to copy and paste the message into their pages to maintain consistent wording and calls to action. 

You’ll also want to use your core messages on signage, in emails, and in your 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 staff. But a consistently repeated messaging campaign works. Remember, research tells us that people need to hear a message seven times in order to remember it and take action. 

And a consistent and clear message now will have long-range benefits for your library. It will reduce frustration and anger from patrons. And it will position your library as a strong yet calm institution with a plan to provide the best library service possible while keeping everyone safe. People will remember the way your library handled this crisis when it comes time to ask for funding later.

Keeping everyone safe

Health and library organizations have worked tirelessly to create guides for reopening. Some of my favorites are The Safe Work Playbook from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, the Reopening and Working Safely Guide from the Idaho Commission for Libraries, and the Service Recovery Checklist from the Australian Library and Information Association. There is also guidance available in this article from Library Journal. 

If your managers haven’t communicated their plans for keeping you safe, now is the time to ask. If it’s your job to figure out the new protocols, first check your local health authorities for their mandates. Your library will need to follow those rules. Next, check with you state library association for guidelines. Many library consortiums are also putting together suggestions and holding virtual meetups to talk about the best practices for library reopening and safety. 

Dealing with angry patrons

This may be the most frequently expressed fear among library staff. A recent episode of the Library Marketing Show centered on this topic: Tips for Dealing With Angry Patrons When Your Library Reopens. I also recommend this webinar from RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System) and this recent article from American Libraries magazine. Scroll down to the second half, which is all about libraries are dealing with staff anxiety.

Proving the library’s value

While you are knee-deep in reopening plans, there is another messaging mission your library must now champion with fervor. You must make sure the public and local lawmakers realize how valuable you are.

The pandemic has taken a toll on the economy. We may not be able to grasp the full extent of it now, but it will surely affect libraries, to the detriment of our communities. Messaging that emphasizes the value of the library is vital to our survival as an industry.

You must make sure the public knows how hard your staff was working while the building was closed. Did you help people file for unemployment? Did you help parents with remote learning? Did you help small business secure PPP loans to pay their workers?  Did you provide comfort and distraction to communities on lockdown?

Tell people what you did. Emphasize the ways your library helped with the economic recovery and the mental well-being of your community. Talk about how quickly you pivoted to online services and how your audience responded.

We must start letting people know about all the fantastic things we do when we are physically reopened. We must work a value-oriented message into everything we put out into the world. We must repeat these messages, over and over again, to drive home the point.

Libraries are too humble about their work. It’s a virtue that may lead to our downfall.

For more inspiration, read this post: Marketing is Not a Dirty Word! Why Libraries Need to Promote Themselves Now, More Than Ever

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