Managing a Library Service in a Crisis — Part 2 — Communication
Covid-19 is a continuing crisis that has challenged everyone not just libraries. For Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL),a Corporation delivering library services to 3 member councils in Northeast Metro Melbourne, Victoria Australia our response was quick, adaptive and responsible. Because we are an organisation separate to local Government, we had to face this crisis using our own resources — both people and technology — without a larger organisation to draw on. Our decision making and response was grouped under 4 areas: Governance (see Part 1); Communication (this post); Our Staff (see Part 3); The Work (see Part 4).
Library staff members were very anxious regarding their own personal situations in relation to the virus, their job security, the rapidly changing situation around the country and the safety of their workplaces. As CEO, I met with staff teams via Microsoft Teams, to communicate my aim to keep everyone gainfully employed in meaningful work and that the YPRL Board supported this aim. This was done to allay some anxiety regarding job security and to communicate some key changes that needed to occur, such as changing staff rosters to a Monday to Friday roster while the branches were closed. All information was also then communicated to staff in writing via email.
YPRL, also, did not have a working Intranet. One of the first things the senior management team did was create an Intranet using SharePoint, part of our Microsoft suite. This developed to have six sections, Home, Service and Operations, Information Services, Public Participation (our Events / Marketing section), Wellness Hub and a Documents section for all shared documents, safety posters and QR codes.
Initially, as information was changing daily; this was updated to further distill the information into Staff Impacts, Service Impacts and What should I do if I feel unwell. We also continually emphasised that the situation was evolving quickly and the answers we provided that day might differ to the answers provided the next day or the next week as the situation changed and more information became available. Our aim was to regularly communicate with all staff to ensure consistency of information and to maintain an “alert but not alarmed” mindset.
Email was another communication mechanism and the main points of the messages were passed on to staff with a link to the SharePoint page for more in depth communication. YPRL also has a fortnightly staff eNews, In Focus, which was used to emphasise key messages and again direct staff to the staff SharePoint Intranet therefore embedding the knowledge of the new communication platform with the staff quickly.
We also instigated twice weekly COVID-19 Cabinet meetings with all Library Branch managers and senior managers to communicate key messages, actions the library service was taking and tasks for managers and staff to undertake in the coming week. It was important at this early stage to be very direct and allocate tasks and projects to specific teams as high anxiety within the staff meant we needed to provide some certainty where we could. With this continued communication and direction the senior management team were able to build confidence in the staff — both in themselves to manage the crisis and also in the senior team to manage the decisions needed to be made.
Branch managers were asked to check in with the team regularly (daily to start with) for a coffee catch up and to make sure all team members were coping with working from home, knew what work they were to do and to answer any questions.
YPRL manages our own website, social media platforms and has an eNewsletter to members so were well placed to manage external communication and digital delivery of services. Keeping this information simple, delivering key messages and transitioning our members to our digital library were our main aims in the early stages of library branch closures and the first lockdown. Telephones remained open to the public while staff members were onsite and our physical libraries remained as worksites. However, when staff were transitioned to working from home the lines were only open to voicemail, which automatically became an email which were forwarded to the appropriate staff member for a response.
We created a new Ask A Librarian service via Facebook and Twitter which were managed live by a staff member Monday to Friday between the hours of 10am–4pm as another avenue to communicate with our members. This was not used widely but it did allow us to start conversations about our digital services with our communities. Our social media follows increased significantly over this time. We also have a YouTube channel which we were able to load “How To Use” short videos of our digital library resources and our Welcome Back and Introduction to the libraries when we re-opened for a short period.
We are still in an out of lockdown here in metro Melbourne as the vaccination rollout is only beginning. For the futuretThe way we deliver will be blended — online and small in-person programs and we will continue to curate activities and selections of our online and physical collections. This will mean our communication with both staff and our customers remain key as changes often occur. Reconnecting with our communities as we slowly return to a new normal is also essential. In our latest community survey they told us there is still an anxiety about gathering in public and they want to make sure libraries are safe places. So our communcation focus will be the Covid-safe practices we are implementing and those digital opportunities to reconnect with us.
Excerpt from Managing a Library Service in a Crisis published in Library Management, Emerald December 2020