Delivering Bad News: Crisis Communication Methods in Academic Libraries

Brittany O’Neill, Rebecca Kelley


This exploratory study analyzed the specific crisis communication methods of academic libraries. A survey was sent to library staff at Association of Research Libraries member colleges and universities to describe if, who, when, and how they communicated bad news to their stakeholders for major, minor, and emerging crises. The findings show that respondents used multiple communication strategies, which varied based on the crisis. The data show that libraries communicated journal and database cancellations and health and safety emergencies more slowly than access issues and were more likely not to communicate those crises at all. Respondents also more frequently chose to communicate journal and database cancellations only when asked as compared to other crises. While access issues and health and safety emergencies were primarily communicated through social media and the library’s website, stakeholders received communication about journal and database cancellations primarily through targeted emails from library liaisons, face-to-face meetings with faculty, and the library’s website. These findings suggest that respondents communicated more quickly for minor crises but were more hesitant for crises that may have presented the potential for reputational harm. The varied responses between crisis types often conflicted with best practices for whether to deliver bad news and, if so, when and by whom. These findings indicate a need for academic libraries to develop comprehensive crisis communication plans that emphasize timeliness and transparency.

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