With good will and a good plan, libraries can deliver
A new advocacy campaign that will build and mobilise national support for libraries has been launched by CILIP in partnership with the EveryLibrary Institute, a US-based project that has helped secure over $1.6bn in tax funding for libraries.
The team behind EveryLibrary will be working closely with staff at CILIP to create an equivalent model in the UK. LibrariesDeliver will bring together existing campaigns, help them to expand local and national support for libraries, and create a pool of support that can be called upon to take action – not just in times of crisis, but also in times of opportunity.
John Chrastka is joint founder of EveryLibrary and Information Professional spoke to him at this year’s CILIP Conference, where the EveryLibrary project was officially launched. The central pillar of the project is a new database which will be used to mobilise supporters to take action. This could be campaigns against closures, but also helping to shape the conversation about library funding – both at a local and national level.
Tapping into the value system
The database – which is fully GDPR compliant – will enable LibrariesDeliver to tap into the goodwill that already exists towards libraries. John said: “In a sense there is an emotional attachment, but there is a value system that the librarians express through their mission and that resonates with people. Many people have a value system that says our community should be a more interesting, thriving and prosperous place. That value system is what resonates with folks once we, as the library stakeholders, translate for them what we do and what values we are trying to realise. The emotions that are resident within the community are ‘hope or fear’, quite honestly.
“It’s a hope for a better community, a better place to live, a thriving and vital place. The fear is ‘what happens if we don’t take care of each other?’ Personally, as a tax-payer and a neighbour I am not capable of taking care of everybody I’d like to take care of, but the librarians are doing that on my behalf. We take the mission vision and values of the library and librarians and paint a picture for folks that says ‘if you agree, and if you believe and if you are concerned – take an action’.”
Database tool for action
The database is the tool that enables those actions to happen. John says: “The database allows us to do two things. One is to aggregate across the country and find folks who believe that library services should be properly funded to fulfil their mission. It then allows us to establish a long-term relationship with those individuals to either ask them to take actions at moments of crisis or moments of opportunity.
“The database is a tool, not the campaign, but it is a tool that has been missing from the UK advocacy and campaigns toolkit. The database itself is a way to not only change the conversation from a policy perspective, it’s a way to change the way the conversation is done. By that I mean – over the long-term, building relationships with people, educating them on the issues, and asking them to take particular types of actions moves the library campaign from a reactionary or crisis mode when there is a cut, to potentially setting the agenda.”
How campaigning is done
That re-framing of the way campaigning is done relies on a united, strength-in-numbers approach – helping to turn local campaigns into a national movement. LibrariesDeliver will not replace local campaigns, but instead it will create a network of support made up of existing campaigners as well as forging new allies. Again, the database will provide a unique tool for campaigners – helping them spread their message nationally, while also bringing new support locally.
“The database is the difference between. Many campaigns are isolated from other potential allies,” says John who has seen first-hand the power of the database in the US. “We launched on 6 September 2012, with zero people in our database. Now, on social media we have 300,000 and the database is pushing 150,000 strong.
“We are in a long-term relationship with people who look at libraries and librarians as solutions-providers in the community. With the database of those people who care, we have the ability to deploy people in localities as small as a single postal code.
“For year-one in the UK, the goals are modest – it’s intended to be a proof of concept. We are hoping to bring 30-35,000 people into the database in year one. The goals are modest because you either need a great deal of money, or a good amount of time to have those conversations.
“Longer-term we believe that with the right kinds of support, and the right kinds of network within the library sector and out to the public as well, we can see between three to five per cent of the population in the database by year-four.
“That dramatically changes the opportunity for libraries to have conversations at both the local council levels as well as nationally. We can look at the funding framework and the policy environment that allows libraries and librarians to do their job to the maximum.”
Serving the person and the community
The model in the US is different to the UK, with a layer of funding that is directly voted far. However, the similarities outweigh the differences – especially when it comes to conversations with the people who make decisions and hold the purse strings. John says: “The folks who use and need library services, there is an appreciation there. That said, there are a lot of folks who don’t use library services who truly appreciate that they are there to provide services to others who do need them.
“The way we look at it at EveryLibrary is that the little bit of tax money we pay for library services allows the librarians to be a proxy for our compassion. My compassion as a non-user of the library, means I’m grateful, in a certain respect, that someone is doing work on early childhood literacy; or health information; or helping development and enterprise in businesses. The focus is there that librarians are serving the person – the whole person, as well as the whole community. For me as a non-user, once I’m enlightened and able to hear some good stories about that vision and be asked to participate in some way in the future of our community through the library, then I respond.”
Skills to broadcast the message
LibrariesDeliver will work with campaigners and advocates to give them the skills they need to make sure the message about funding is heard and understood. “About 60 per cent of all public libraries in the US are funded through councils – county, city or town board, as well some other municipal entities. We spend as much time working on the behind-the-scenes negotiations with recalcitrant councils, or disconnected councils, or sometimes even hostile councils. We’re very proud of our work – you can measure it. On the voter-facing campaigns we have had 102 election days behind us and 86 wins. That’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1.7bn in stable tax money that we have secured for libraries over the course of these campaigns.
“But it’s the work we do behind the scenes, supporting the local library in bolstering the advocacy work of local campaigners where we are very proud of as well.”
The skills and knowledge that the team from EveryLibrary will share is a huge part of giving the grassroots movement – including those working in the profession – the tools it needs. John says: “What we will do is help librarians translate their vision and articulate their vision to policy-makers. The vision they have right now around the UK is very strong about how libraries should be serving their communities. Yet the disconnect between that and the way funding is flowing and the aspirational services that librarians want to see is there. We can bridge that gap between the librarians and the decision-makers. It’s an area we have had success within in the United States, and we are very proud of that success.”
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Articulating the vision
“The training that we provide to staff in libraries is not focused on their job title. It’s focused on their interest and ability to articulate a vision for their community through the library’s properly-funded services. We spend a lot of time training, coaching and guiding staff at all levels to be proper ambassadors to the library service. To be empowered agents for the library’s vision for the community. We are less concerned by job titles or job roles, we are looking to empower staff at all levels to be able to carry the message forward.”
The project is funded by Arts Council England, but the hope is it will become self-sustaining as support grows – mirroring EveryLibrary’s own model in the US. Its first phase will focus on the database and building networks, with the element of support, coaching and skills training following naturally. As those two elements develop, the third phase will launch – helping CILIP build a network of influential allies to support the campaign.
John says: “The third component of our activity is to help CILIP with its framework around coalition-building. To add capacity to CILIP’s ability to work within sector, but also importantly outside of sector on topics like literacy, health, enterprise.
“The idea being that the library community’s advocacy is stronger if we can help answer questions from local authorities and national government about who else cares about library issues. Coalitions answer that question, because we can say we have all these groups that also care about community and the place we call home, and who understand the librarian’s place in that.”
Support the campaignSupport the campaign
The LibrariesDeliver website and database are live and people can sign up to support the campaign. Social media in the form of Facebook and Twitter are also part of the digital campaign, offering a variety of channels to engage with potential supporters. John wants everyone working in libraries to do their bit to help the campaign get off to the best possible start, saying: “For those folk who are already receptive to the idea that libraries are part of a community support matrix, we need their help reaching more people like them.
“To the public who is interested in finding a solution to some of the issues that are truly difficult in communities – whether rural or urban – to have them be open-minded about how the librarians are solutions-providers. We can show that a little bit of smart, targeted and efficiently spent tax money in library services goes a long way towards addressing those problems.
“If you are on Facebook, invite people in your own personal social networks in your personal lives to subscribe to the site and subscribe to the page, because that allows the campaign to leverage the modern tools properly to reach across the country quickly, inexpensively and effectively.”
Sign up at www.LibrariesDeliver.uk
, visit the LibrariesDelivery Facebook page
and stay connected on Twitter @LibDeliverUK