| By John Chrastka, Executive Director, EveryLibrary |
It seems to me that people like to live in places that are “interesting, thriving, and prosperous.” The definition of what each of those three things means can certainly vary between people. My version of interesting or your version of prosperous may even be at odds with each other. To me, “thriving” means growth. And I don’t know anyone who wants to be a neighbor (as opposed to a hermit) who doesn’t want to see their neighbors and their neighbors’ kids able to follow their bliss. To me, the library has a natural role in supporting every growing, vibrant, and successful community. But I’m concerned that not enough of our neighbors understand that role in a way that leads to stable library funding.
DEMOGRAPHICS NOT DEEMED A DECIDING FACTOR
For your library to be funded at the right level, it’s important for your advocacy about funding to be tied directly to how you make the community more “interesting, thriving, and prosperous.” We know from our work at EveryLibrary, on nearly 100 library funding campaigns, that there is very little difference in the win/loss rate for libraries based on community demographics. Whether it’s a rich city, a declining farm town, a long-established village, or the newest pin on the map, demographics aren’t an indicator of likely voter support for library funding. Well-off places have passed library funding measures by margins similar to less well-off places.
Whether the community is “growing” or “declining” likewise isn’t a big factor in library funding outcomes. In communities that are growing, there’s often a disconnect between the “old town” and the “new town,” and the library’s funding may be a proxy fight about change. In towns on the decline, there is an often-felt perception of scarcity, and the library’s funding may turn into a fight for limited resources between factions.
YOUR LIBRARY, THE CORE OF COMMUNITY
It’s clear to us at EveryLibrary that your library should also be marketed as the anchor to the “livability index” of your community—either in its growth or resurgence. Depending on your place, your library could be at the core of “interesting, vibrant, and prosperous.” In many other places, the library is a key but complementary organization in a crowded ecosystem. In both kinds of places, your library’s arts and culture programming, cooking and crafter events, support for lifelong learning, services to small businesses and job seekers, and digital and print collections need to be framed as growing a more livable community.
Even though you grow the community person-by-person, if you frame your fundability solely around the outcomes you create for a series of individuals, you may not succeed. When we show that a properly funded library is a mission-critical way for the entire community to realize how “interesting, thriving, and prosperous” it can be, we’ve helped libraries do much better at the ballot box or with their city council.
It’s at the heart of the “pursuit of happiness” we all talk so much about.