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How to Say Hard Things – a Reflection

by Annie Zwisler, Public Relations and Development Manager, Portage County District Library (Garrettsville, OH), PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on May 13, 2024

The biggest takeaway I had from this session presented by the Kenosha (WI) Public Library at the PLA 2024 conference is that a crisis is not merely a state of emergency. The speaker defined a crisis as events that go beyond normal, that involve an increase in a resource need and are usually unexpected. Libraries experience a variety of crises, and the presenter went through a checklist of why we must communicate effectively during a crisis. You must clarify your message, connect with your community, and  learn to work through the process of sitting in conflict. The presenter also detailed how you can communicate and support your team during a crisis. Clear communication and information are the most important factors when dealing with a crisis, how team members hear and process information can make a crisis feel more or less difficult as it goes on.

There are ways to prepare for a crisis in the future. One way is vulnerability. Vulnerability in leadership is a cross-section of authenticity and trust. Having candor, direct, honest and open communication (a good relationship between speaking and listening) can help different teams be more open, communicative, and collaborative. It also contributes to a sense of belonging in the community.

This session was one of the best that was presented during the conference, in my opinion. The presenter took an event she experienced  (the riots and protests following a murder in Kenosha) and made it easy to understand why she took the steps she did when a crisis hit her community. As someone who is also the head of the PR/Marketing Department, this session was extremely helpful for when a crisis involves our library staff, like COVID-19. It was refreshing to see the presenter also share the mistakes she made during the crisis, or things she said she could’ve done better or will get right in the future. You never know when a crisis will hit, and having shortcomings when it comes to some of your decisions can be a very real situation. Being able to discuss what procedures you should have in place in case of a crisis, as well as knowing you have a good team beside you can make a world of a difference for you, your staff and your community.

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