An Open Letter to Libraries on the Ballot this Fall

Voters, donors, and allies are motivated to support your library campaign when they have a positive perception of the library. Equally important is their understanding of the high-impact, meaningful work that the staff does every day.

Voters, donors, and allies are motivated to support your library campaign when they have a positive perception of the library.

Equally important is their understanding of the high-impact, meaningful work that the staff does every day. However, as librarians and staff, we tend not to talk about our work, and this impacts our ability to generate strong support.

Voters who don't come into the library lack an understanding of 21st century library work. They are stuck in a nostalgia for the library and librarians of their childhood which, while positive, may be far removed from the vital role libraries play in the educational and economic ecosystems in our communities today. Their nostalgia is powerful, but it's out of date. It's powerful because most citizens have some reference point for how librarians are compassionately engaged in the community. They may have experienced it themselves, or they have a belief, rooted in early civic education, that libraries touch lives and change communities for the better.

This nostalgic understanding of libraries doesn’t translate to strong support at the ballot box. Non-library-users might think that Google search has replaced the reference interview or Amazon reviews are an OK stand-in for that moment of readers advisory magic. They may think that because everything is on the Internet people don't use or need libraries or their librarians any more. Especially prone to these beliefs are the non-users who have a high enough personal income to afford their own broadband Internet, cell phone, tablet, e-reader, Netflix, and Amazon Prime account. Although their beliefs may be out of sync with the reality of the modern library, their warm nostalgic feelings provide an authentic openness to hearing about how the library is still helping people learn, grow, succeed and discover. They are interested, when told, about how the format has changed but the work - the important work of being their librarian - has not changed.

As librarians, we still have an impact at the intersection between teaching kids to read and helping them grow to adulthood. We are still there for our patrons when they are in transition with their jobs, their families, their health, and their personal growth. But it is on us to tell the people who don't use the library what new funding will allow us to do in the community for the people who do use it.

Quoting stats about the library may help, but only a little. The fact that there are people like you -- librarians who are working hard and are passionately engaged with the community -- matters more. And the only way you can engage the imagination and support of your non-users is to jump over the reference desk, come around the circ desk, and leave the building to tell the story about how you put their tax dollars to work.

You can tell that story without crossing the line into advocacy. You do it by rooting your story in the truth about "what we, as your librarians, can do for you and for the community if our funding initiatives passes." And don't be shy to tell the truth about "what we can't we do if the initiative fails." When there is a funding initiative on the ballot YOU are the candidate, whether you want to be or not. But it's not just you, personally. It's all library staff who are perceived as, and must act as, the candidate. And since WE is much greater than I, you and your colleagues are in the best place to go out and tell the story of what happens at your library.

News from around the #libraries #politics world

The Darby Community Public Library (MT) will get an additional $30,000 next year after winning at the ballot box last Tuesday. The levy increase will allow the library to continue its current level of service and remain open 5 days per week. With stable funding the library will also be able to purchase more materials, fund building maintenance and support educational programs and spaces for youth. We were an early donor and supporter of the campaign. Congratulations go to the Yes Committee and the Library Director who worked hard for the win.

The Vote YES for Libraries! committee kicked off their campaign last week in Eugene (OR). The 5 year levy is expected to bring in an additional $2.7 million for the library annually if passed. The mayor and other Eugene residents spoke in support of the library at the kick-off event. With the increase the library would be able to restore hours to the branch libraries as well as purchase more materials, laptops, and other electronic reading devices for public use. EveryLibrary is currently supporting the committee's fundraising efforts with a $2,000 challenge grant.

There is a levy increase on the ballot for the Jefferson County Public Library network (CO) this November 3. If passed, this will be the first increase since 1986. The library surveyed 5,000 residents and found that 62 percent would support the increase. Additional funding is needed to restore hours that have been lost because of a lack of funding. The libraries also need money for facilities maintenance and new technology.

That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!


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  • John Chrastka
    published this page in News and Updates 2021-01-23 01:55:39 -0800