How to Deal with Negative Library Reviews and Comments. Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

The lowest moment in my library career came about four years ago, when my library endured a year of bad press.

First, a local TV news station ran a story about drug overdoses at the library. Then, our administration briefly entertained the idea of selling a portion of our main library building to a developer, to raise funds for the renovation of other library branches in our system. You can imagine how the community surrounding the main library reacted.

Our marketing department handled the press coverage well. But, in the fallout, we noticed that the negative press coverage led to negative reviews of our library.

Our services hadn’t changed. Our commitment to the community hadn’t changed. But the negative news stories changed the public’s perception of us.

It played out several times a week when we would post announcements on social media. We were met with comments from people who used those posts to try and steer the conversation to the negative library coverage. I admit, it was exhausting and frustrating.

If you are lucky enough never to be the target of negative press coverage, your library will still have to deal with negative comments, one-star reviews, and NextDoor drama. Even when you are trying to make a difference in the community, you’ll be targeted by complainers.

Negativity is bad for you and bad for your library

Ignoring negative reviews and comments is not an option. They have the power to damage your library’s reputation. A study by shows one negative review can drive as many as 30 people away from your library. The more negative reviews and comments you have, the more people you lose, according to the data.

Negative reviews can also hurt your library’s ranking in search. Search engines generally list the highest ranked organizations and businesses first.

What can you do?

It doesn’t matter if your library is giving away $10 bills with every checkout… someone is going to find something to complain about. They’ll probably do it online.

It’s hard to know how to handle the situation when an irate, antagonistic library user posts a negative review on a social media site or website. Your immediate reaction is to jump into firefighter mode, drag out the fully charged hose, and put out the flames… pronto.

But it’s important to take step back and see the opportunity in that negative review. It’s your chance to turn that angry user into an evangelist for your library.

If that sounds like an extreme possibility, I want you to read this post by Jay Baer.  I’ve heard Jay speak at several conferences. He has taught me everything I know about turning negative reviews into positive customer experiences.

Create a process for responding

A plan for responding to negative reviews and comments is a form of a crisis communication plan. If you have a plan in place before you’re confronted with negativity, you can put your emotional reaction aside and respond calmly, rationally, and with empathy.

A thoughtful and measured response to a negative comment makes your library look human. When you respond to critics, you show that you value all your customers and their opinions. Your plan will have four components.

Respond as quickly as possible.  It’s important to address the issue as soon as you can. Talk with staff and senior leaders about monitoring your social media channels and email as closely as you can. There should always be someone who can check the accounts, even at night or on the weekends. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of other haters hijacking the thread and turning one bad review into a free-for-all.

Don’t censor. Unless the comment violates your social media or website standards of behavior, don’t hide the comment.

If the problem cannot be solved easily online, take it offline. Apologize and address the complainer with empathy, then ask them to contact you by email. You can say, “I’m sorry to hear you are having this problem. We want to make it right. Could you email me at **** and give me some more details about your experience? Then I can make sure your issue gets in front of the right person and is addressed.”

But try to remember that you cannot please everyone. Occasionally, someone will complain about something and you will not be able to fix the problem.  Apologize, explain your library’s side of the situation as best you can, and move on.

Encourage library fans to give positive reviews to outweigh negative reviews and increase your overall search engine rankings. Find ways to solicit reviews from the people who love your library. Amplify those good reviews by sharing them on social media, in emails, and in your print promotional material.

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