Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

The library I worked for when I started this blog had an annual tradition. Every year, our staff would march in the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade.

Now, you must understand that Opening Day in Cincinnati is a holiday. Legitimately. And people look forward to the parade as much as they do the game. So, marching in it is incredibly exciting.

It was my job to organize the library’s entry every year. That involved getting library staff members to sign up to march in attire and carrying props that matched our summer reading theme.

You’d think that would be easy.

It was not.

Every year, I’d panic because I had too few staff members signed up to march. Then, staff would start calling me days before the parade, asking why they hadn’t heard about our library’s entry.

This happened because we had a messy, unorganized internal communications strategy. And that was dangerous.

If we were having problems getting information to staff about a fun event, we were really in trouble when it came to communicating the information they needed to do their work properly.

Internal communications: marketing’s forgotten stepchild

On this blog, we focus mainly on marketing and promotions aimed to reach your library community. But for the next two weeks, we’re going to turn our attention to a different audience: your staff.

Effective internal communication is incredibly important to the success of any library. Without it, staff feels disconnected from the library, their community, and each other. Morale can drop. Initiatives may not be successful when workers don’t feel like they understand the context and their role in the work.

And when library staff feel frustrated, they quit. Turnover is bad for your library. It costs you money and productivity.

But the people who really suffer in this equation are your community members.

That’s why every library, however big or small, needs an intentional internal communications plan.

Setting a realistic course of action

First, let me tell you from experience that an internal communications plan won’t magically transform the staff experience overnight. These things take time. But, if you create a solid plan and are consistent in your communications, you will see improvement.

You should approach this work just as you would for a customer-facing marketing campaign. First, you’ll want to answer some questions about the state of your library’s internal communications.

Ask:

  • Do you have a strategy? How effective is it?
  • What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who is currently involved in shaping and executing your current internal communications?
  • Who needs to be involved in improving those communications?

Next, you’ll want to determine your goals. Use the SMART goals framework to set your library up for success.

Your goals should be:

  • Specific: Define what you want to accomplish in clear, simple terms that everyone on your library staff, from front-line workers to senior leaders, can understand.
  • Measurable: Create milestones and targets that can help you see your progress toward each aspect of your goal.
  • Attainable: Set goals that are manageable and realistic.
  • Relevant: Create goals that develop your library staff members, serve your community, and connect to your library’s overall strategic plan.
  • Time-based: Create a specific timeframe for reaching your goals. This timeframe will ensure you are accountable to the staff. It will also prompt you to reflect on how your plan is progressing, and change direction if you encounter any issues.

Finally, you’ll want to decide how you’ll measure the success of your internal communications. You may want to measure:

  • Decrease in employee turnover  
  • Increase in candidates applying for new jobs  
  • Increase in staff workplace satisfaction
  • Increase in staff performance review ratings

Library staff is an audience

The next task is to uncover the best way to connect with your audience: the staff. What do they need to know? When do they need to know it? And how do they want that information delivered?

Jill Fuller is a Marketing and Communications Librarian for Bridges Library System. Her job involves a lot of communication with staff at various libraries in the system. And she uses surveys, like this one, to figure out what her audience wants to see in her staff emails.

“They have excellent open and click rates,” she explained, “but I wanted to get quantitative data too. I asked them questions about how helpful they were, whether they were relevant to their jobs, which topics they wanted me to focus on, the frequency and length of the emails, and more.”

“I never knew how much the emails were appreciated! With the data I gathered, I have been able to focus more on the topics the library staffs were most interested in and scaled the frequency down to every other week.”

Use Jill’s advice and create a survey to gauge the needs and preferences of your staff. Jill suggests you ask:

  • Their preferences for getting information
  • How they share system information with their staff or colleagues
  • Whether they feel they receive enough communication
  • Whether they feel the communication is accurate
  • How comfortable they feel contacting your library with questions.

Make the survey easy to fill out, and as short as possible. Let the staff know that the survey is their best way to share their thoughts about the direction your library should take with internal communications.

And give staff time to fill it out. It should be available for at least two weeks. You want a participation percentage of 80 percent or higher. Reminders in email, delivered by managers, and in signage in staff areas will help.

Even better, ask managers to set a meeting appointment on staff calendars for filling out the survey.   

The benefit of a newsletter for internal library communications

If you have a lot of information to share, as Jill does, consider creating an internal library newsletter. Newsletters take what could have been multiple emails and condense them into a simple, easy-to-read format.

Cindy Starks is the Communications Coordinator for Coal City Public Library District, a small library southwest of Chicago, Illinois. They serve a population of 11,000 residents and have 22 employees. 

After each monthly department heads meeting, it’s Cindy’s job to prepare a summary in a newsletter to staff called the Staff FYI Newsletter.

“The newsletter can be a lot of information to retain for staff,” admitted Cindy, “but by having it emailed they can refer to it at any time when they don’t remember something.”

Tips for a staff newsletter

  • Provide the right news and information. Carefully consider the kind of information your employees need. Try not to send too much information in one email, or too many emails.
  • Remember your calls to action. Encourage staff to take the next step, such as sharing information on social media, filling out a survey, or signing up for training or new initiatives.
  • Strengthen your subject lines. You want staff to open your emails, so consider your subject line just as you do for any email communication to patrons. Use emojis or power words to catch the attention of your staff.

Advice from a library

Grace Riario and Anita Baumann of Ramapo Catskill Public Library System send a newsletter six times per year to all library trustees serving on the Boards of their 47 member libraries. 

They’ve got three pieces of advice for internal communications.

“Keep the text short and positive,” says Grace. “Pictures representing the topics are a must.”

“Lists, such as the three best things about being a library director, ensure that people will read that piece in your newsletter,” continued Grace.  

“A third ‘strategy’ we employ is consistency in formatting and color palette,” shared Grace “Prominent display of the organization’s logo, as well as a uniform look and subject line in the email when it’s distributed help readers to recognize the material when it hits their inbox.”  

Staff communication beyond emails

My library ended up adding an internal communications position to our ranks. That person attended meetings, created talking points for managers to explain new initiatives, and organized our internal staff website. She discovered our staff liked to hear news directly from senior staff, so she started a weekly video series where senior leaders appeared in short videos to share information.

If your library cannot add a staff member specifically tasked with internal communications, there are still things you can do. Libraries can be very siloed and bureaucratic organizations. But the libraries that open those siloes and promote productive and meaningful conversations have success in internal communications.

This can be done by leaving space for question-and-answer sessions at the end of all-staff meetings. You can also add a Q and A board to your internal website. Encourage staff to ask questions and share information with each other.

Next week: Library marketer Chris Boivin of the Jacksonville Public Library launched a full campaign to make sure the staff of his library understood the importance of marketing and branding. Find out how he did it, and what lessons you can learn from his experience, on September 26.


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