Implement the library’s communications plan

Coordinating responses with local leaders and providing accurate information are both major priorities during a disaster. For NorthNet libraries, recent experiences with wildfires and power shutoffs have also created additional challenges.

Following the 2017 Nortern California wildfires, the Napa County Library directed patrons to community resources and provided regular updates about the library's status.

Libraries should anticipate the possibility that communications will be disrupted. Internet and cell service may be down. Additional strain on wireless networks may grind speeds to a halt.

In thinking about their immediate communications response, libraries should plan for multiple contingencies and consider possible scenarios. Can important updates be sent to library staff and volunteers via text message? Can the library website be updated from a cell phone or tablet? Who will update the library’s social media accounts?


Coordinate Communications

As a disaster unfolds, library administrators should include communication needs in their conversations with city or county leadership. The library should coordinate with communication staff, such as public information officers (PIOs), to ensure that accurate information is sent out.

During recent fires in Sonoma, Napa and Butte County, libraries assured patrons that there would be no charges for lost or damaged items. While this may seem small, many community members expressed appreciation for the libraries' flexibility.

Libraries may also need to clarify whether messages need to be approved ahead of time by city or county administrators, said Mel Lightbody, director of the Butte County Library.


Consider Key Audiences

Library leaders should revisit how best to communicate with staff, volunteers, patrons and the broader public. If the disaster disrupts phone or internet services, the library’s communications plan may need to be adjusted. Consider the full range of communication methods that are available.


Provide Frequent Updates

As one of the most trusted community institutions, libraries play a vital role as an information source during a disaster. Share and promote accurate information using the library’s website, newsletters and social media accounts, as well as through partner organizations.


During the ongoing response to COVID-19, libraries throughout the NorthNet region have been using their platforms to provide updates and connect patrons with additional resources. The Napa County Library has been using their Facebook page to share daily briefings from county administrators and supervisors, as well as question and answer sessions with local health officials.


Libraries also need to let patrons know about changes to library services. These may include facility closures, new library hours, alternate locations for library programs, or, in the case of COVID-19, significant changes to library operations. Frequent communication will help to reduce patron anxiety and continue to build trust between the library and community.

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This project was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

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