When a crisis hits, accurate information is sometimes overshadowed by “fake news” and false assumptions. As information professionals, librarians play a crucial role in providing patrons with the facts and resources for those who want to learn more. 

How is your library managing the current crisis of concern about coronavirus (COVID-19) disease? We’ve got some proven steps your library should consider.

Take a proactive approach. Less than three days after the San Francisco City Department of Public Health issued directives for all city-owned facilities to cancel non-essential events, the San Francisco Public Library sent emails to its newsletter subscribers.

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The message assured patrons that library locations remain open, shared facts about the coronavirus, and explained that all programs and meeting room reservations at the library would be canceled through March 31. 

“It was essential to communicate this information as quickly as possible to our community,” says Jaime Wong, Public Relations Officer for the San Francisco Public Library. “While we posted an alert over the weekend on our social accounts, ultimately email messaging was the easiest and quickest way to get word to our widest patron base about the steps we are taking.”

Pro tip: LibraryAware subscribers will find ready-to-go print and digital templates to communicate program cancellations due to COVID-19, or to remind patrons to wash their hands.

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Just type “covid” or “coronavirus” in the LibraryAware homepage search bar.

Keep it simple. San Francisco created the email using LibraryAware. As for all focused messages that the library sends, they used a basic e-blast template with the library’s branded header. The message included steps the library was taking to ensure a safe environment, as well as public health recommendations for staying healthy. Lastly, links to the library’s e-resources were included for patrons who were looking for an alternative to visiting the library in person.

Remember your audience. Does your audience communicate in more than one language? Consider sending translations of the email in non-English languages.

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San Francisco Public Library sent emails in English as well as Chinese and Spanish.  

Combat fear and rumors with facts. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has communication materials libraries are free to use, including fact sheets and graphics. Libraries we work with in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have similar information for their communities. A once-a-day coronavirus fact check post on social media is a good way to counteract the effects of false internet rumors. It’s a great way to remind your community that your library is a trusted source for the truth about the illness.   

Put the information front and center. Create a list of trusted resources about the coronavirus on a special section of your website. Create one yourself or use the CDC’s ready-made microsite. A special website section gives staff a quick way to answer questions from the community and provides community members with a specific place to turn for accurate information. Remember to include a link to this page on your homepage and in social media posts.  

Also consider messages on your electronic display screens. LibraryAware subscribers can use widgets prepared for communicating about the virus. Search the Image Selector using the keywords “covid” or “coronavirus.” 

Pro Tip: LibraryAware now offers widgets sized right for social media and large display screens

Remember those who are not online. Create a display of printed materials from trusted sources, including your local health department or government social services agencies.  

Libraries are trusted as reliable sources of information. There is no better time than now to help our communities with timely, factual resources.   

Angela Hursh is an Engagement Specialist for NoveList. She is currently reading Obviously by Akilah Hughes.