Respond to Complaints and Skepticism

An important part of advocacy is listening to the conversations and discussions about the library happening in your community. Your library can receive valuable feedback if you’re paying attention!

Stay connected. Social media is an important part of these ongoing conversations. Reading the comments on news stories, Facebook, and Twitter is an excellent way to see what your community is saying about the library.

Comment strategically. Sometimes, these conversations will contain an error. Should you jump in and correct the error, or let it go?  If the error relates to a fact, correct it. If someone comments that a program starts at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, and it really starts at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, your users will thank you for making the correction.

If the error relates to a perception, it’s wiser to let it go. You won’t be able to “win” an argument based on an opinion. If someone says, “I think libraries are a waste of taxpayers’ money,” addressing that comment will probably spur additional, similar comments.  Chances are, someone else will stand up for libraries - and the testimony of an outsider carries more weight than that of an insider. Strategically, comments that are very negative, hateful, or serve no real purpose should not be given additional attention by an official response.

Be honest about your identity. When posting comments, be open about your position with the library. Pretense or attempted anonymity is dishonest, and others will see through it. When they do, the library’s credibility will take a huge hit.

Stick to the facts. When responding directly to complaints, address the actual complaint without emotion. Be factual and straightforward, and avoid getting drawn into an emotional response.

If the complaint is something you will act on, let the person know. If you disagree, let  the person know that, too, and offer a factual explanation of why you disagree.

If you are uncertain of your own facts, tell the other person you will get back to him or her as soon as you can, and be diligent in following up.

End on a positive note. A library’s most important asset is its reputation. Whenever possible, end an exchange on a positive note. Thank people who comment for their interest in the library. While you are not always able to change an individual’s negative perception, you may earn that person’s regard by dealing respectfully with their concern. More importantly, the silent watchers will see that even in fielding criticism, the library treats people with respect, and the library’s credibility with them will rise. 

For additional tips and resources, view this ALA-curated page: Dialogue & Deliberation Resources for Libraries