February 28, 2013
John Chrastka is the former membership director at the American Library Association, and has left that position recently to start a political action committee for library advocacy purposes, called Every Library. This organization is about three months old at this point. I had heard of it and realized that I didn’t know anything about it, so I contacted John and asked him some questions. He agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I think our interview goes into a good degree of depth at explaining what Every Library is doing and how you can be involved.
John, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I want to start simply by asking you to explain what Every Library is and how it got started.
Rory, I appreciate the chance to connect with your readers about EveryLibrary and our work helping local ballot committees talk to voters about libraries. EveryLibrary grew out of a gap in national library advocacy work. The existing associations and organizations that advocate for and support libraries, like ALA, OCLC, the Gates Foundation, and most state library associations, are all 501c3 organizations. They do great advocacy to the public and decision-makers through projects like Geek the Library, the @yourlibrary campaign, and I Love Libraries. They focus their efforts in bringing advocacy messages about the value, impact, and importance of libraries in our communities and campuses – and in the lives of our users – out to new audiences. Their work in D.C. and state capitals to pass legislation affects issues of access and funding. But none of these advocacy groups or campaigns can say “Vote Yes” to the public, directly, on either ballot measures or candidates. As a 501c3 they are not able to use charitably donated monies to do direct voter outreach to endorse a candidate or ballot measure. EveryLibrary exists to fill in that gap, at least when it comes to local ballots. We are set up as a 501c4 social welfare organization. We are intentionally politically active and are technically the first Super PAC for libraries. And as such, we can do advocacy and talk directly to voters and ask them to Vote Yes for a library ballot measure.
That is really intriguing. So what exactly are Every Library’s activities in terms of talking directly to voters?
EveryLibrary is all about building capacity for library political action at the local level. Somewhere near 97% of all public library funding is appropriated locally. We are set up to help local ballot committees and PACs do voter education, outreach, and get out the vote work. We do that in two ways: providing direct funding to the local committee to do an effective “Vote Yes” campaign, and consulting services to help ensure that the messaging is solid, the voter data is useful, and the volunteers are well trained. You won’t see generic commercials from EveryLibrary. If you live in a district with an EveryLibrary backed ballot measure you will see the local committee’s message about their own library and proposition. We’re transparently behind the scenes.
Where does the funding come from to do this work?
To date, we have received 100% of our funding from individual donors. As a c4, we are not eligible for grants or foundation money. Like other politically active organizations we are looking to both small and large individual donors who believe in our mission. We are reaching out the corporate community both inside and outside the library world. And we are approaching unions and other issue-PACs for resources. We are a lean organization and have very little overhead. Every dollar goes to work helping to win on Election Day.
I think many librarians and other library advocates may not be aware of the importance of donating money for this purpose. What are you doing to raise funds from the public? Are you able to do much with the funding that presently is coming in? What do you feel you need to raise to accomplish your goals in addition to what is coming in now? You’re brand new, so I would imagine some potential donors might want to see a track record that there is no way of showing yet. Is that the case?
I am happy to say that we have our first success already! We backed “Yes for Spokane Libraries” on a Feb 12th, 2013 ballot measure. The Spokane Public Library had a $1.6 million 4-year dedicated levy out to the voters. EveryLibrary provided about 25% of the funding to the “Yes…” committee do voter education and get out the vote. The library ran a great informational campaign but the chance to back an active Vote Yes campaign – with phone banking, yard signs, and a little door-to-door canvassing – was wonderful. They won with 66% of the vote. Having EveryLibrary there in such a substantial way was important for them and for us. All that funding came from individual donors.
We have a funding plan in place that will provide us with the resources we need to support several dozen campaigns in the 2014 election cycle while laying the foundation for to support any campaign we’d want in 2015 and beyond. Our fundraising plan is to continue to ask for donations from librarians and library supporters but to broaden the ask to the general public. Whether it is direct mail or telephone solicitations, both cost money to do. We know that we need to build capacity for campaigns so we’re going to be out there doing that kind of fundraising in the fall. But until that time we’re working on telling our story about supporting libraries at the ballot box to some key larger donors who can support our early work.
You referred to Every Library as a “Super Pack,” and mentioned local PACs working on ballot measures, saying that Every Library assists them. What is a Super Pack, technically speaking? And also, regarding the behind-the-scenes work that Every Library does to help local efforts, can you talk about the expertise that your group offers to the local ballot organizers or PACs, what specifically you are doing for them?
The term Super PAC refers to the way we’re organized. As a 501c4 we are a Social Welfare Organization and our charter makes it clear that we do not work on candidates for office at any level of government. Other “regular” PACs do candidates. Super PACs can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other PACs to support their particular issues – and expend funds to advocate for their issues. Our issue is libraries and our mode of advocacy as a Super PAC for libraries is to work supporting local ballot measures. For example, when a library puts a Bond Issue on the ballot to build the first new library since Carnegie died there are millions of dollars at stake and the potential to have generational impact on that community. If they win, it is a game changer for services, programs, collections, and librarian jobs. If they lose, it could be a huge setback for the community. We work in support of a local PAC or ballot committee to provide seed money to help them campaign as well as technical assistance to run that campaign well, if needed. We can help by looking at the voter data and doing voter segmentation. It is critical to the success of campaigns to “touch” high-turnout voters with your message. We can help by doing pre-polling about voter attitudes about the library and the ballot measure. Knowing where you are going with messaging in your community is important. We also can help with the messaging, design, and outreach techniques from planning through execution. There are a lot of resources we’re ready to bring besides funding.
Right now, we’re helping the “Citizens for a New Shorewood-Troy Library” committee with voter segmentation and developing their precinct ‘walk lists’, working with them on messaging, and training their volunteers on how to do door-to-door canvasing. We’re not involved as part of their committee – they run their campaign and make all the decisions on how to expend their funding. But we help build capacity within their committee as consultants.
Well, I would just like to say that I think what you are doing sounds really great. I am wondering what people can do if they want to support Every Library and show their support. Also, I’m wondering what kind of partnerships you have or are planning to start with other organizations.
We built the organization with small donations – $10 or $100 goes a long way when we’re talking about library ballot measures and voter outreach. When something fails at the polls it doesn’t usually fail by huge numbers. In a district with a service population of 10,000 people, perhaps 6,000 are registered voters and maybe 1,800 will come out for a library election. If they lose by 3% or 4% (which is not atypical), that’s 55 or 60 votes. We think that we can do a lot to educate and influence 61 voters with not too much money. If you agree that this idea matters because every one of those ballot measures matter to the future of that library, you can donate at www.rally.org/everylibrary. We’ll put it right to work.
Throughout the spring we’re going to be announcing several partnerships and key funders that will help extend and expand our work. Stay tuned.
That sounds great, John. This was very informative. I want to encourage readers to donate – it seems like a very effective use of funds. Thanks for doing the interview.
Rory, I truly appreciate the chance to talk about EveryLibrary and to be featured on Library Juice press. It was an engaging interview. Thanks so much.
November 5, 2012
George Eberhart of American Libraries magazine has written an article about the role of libraries during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath: “Libraries Weather the Superstorm.” He summarizes the damage done to libraries by the storm (to the extent that we know about it at this point), describes some budding efforts to repair damage and rebuild collections, and talks about how libraries served as important resources and gathering places for some of the communities affected by the storm.
August 4, 2012
Barbara Fister expresses a welcome dissenting view regarding the death of libraries and reading in the current Inside Higher Ed: “The End of the Twilight of Doom.” I agree with what she says, especially regarding the problem of high level administrators believing the hype about the death of reading, and the danger that it poses to library budgets.
October 30, 2011
Here is a guest post from Julie Teglovic, an MLIS student at the University of Denver, where students have been protesting a decision regarding the library…
Library as Space: University Students Want Books
This April, the paper books at the University of Denver’s Penrose Library began a move into a storage facility 10 miles away in preparation for the library’s gutting and renovation. I, like most students not hearing otherwise, assumed that the move would be temporary, until I happened across the “Keep the Penrose Library Book Collection on Campus” Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/savethestacks) in early May. According to this page, secret dealings had been made “behind closed doors and at the last minute” by the university Chancellor and Board of Trustees, culminating in a decision to retain 80% of the books at the storage center and return 20% to campus after the renovation.
About six students and a few faculty members, led by undergraduate English and Psychology major Brandon Reich-Sweet, united to disseminate information through the Facebook page and a website (www.savepenrose.com). They distributed online and paper petitions, contacted news outlets and university officials, made t-shirts and signs, and organized check-out/sit-in protests in and around the library. Because of these efforts, as of right now, university administration has agreed to return 50% of the books to campus (this is according to library faculty and student organizers; no official communication to students has been released).
Concerns over environmental sustainability and transparency were important to the group’s arguments (books will be driven by truck to and from the storage facility indefinitely, and neither students nor library staff were asked for input on the initial decision), but perhaps more interesting here are this group of non-librarians’ deep concerns about the library, its space, and its purpose.
I’ve read a lot in library school thus far about adapting to survive, about the need to see the library as community space, meeting space, and cutting-edge technology space. As gaming space, video-editing space, music-recording space. I’ve taken classes on ebooks and seen the skills requirements for programming languages and systems analysis on academic librarian job descriptions. Librarians want to redefine their collective image, to be tech-savvy and rethink education; we champion webinars and iSchools and digital repositories as solutions. Penrose is certainly not the first academic library to move a large number of books off-campus. Some students supported the Chancellor’s original decision and spoke out in the student newspaper The Clarion, asking why a book that’s never been circulated should gather dust. They argue that the way students learn has fundamentally changed in the last 20 years, and by designing a library with more collaborative learning space, the university is responding to this change.
Yet the (mostly undergraduate) students protesting—the library users, not the librarians—organized this movement and voiced—loudly—a different opinion: they want the books. As symbols of academic rigor, as visible history, as an elegant reminder of long-form reality itself to Brandon—the pages mean something to them. The millennials we jump to categorize as attention-deficient and gadget-crazed are perhaps more attuned to the emotional, existential, and intellectual redemption that a brick of words, a collection not on a screen, can provide than we as a profession would like to acknowledge. “The decision by a group of number-obsessed business-types to remove almost all of the books from a LIBRARY was really just a small symbol of a broader cultural trend,” Brandon says in an editorial for the Clarion. He writes about “Things without meaning…the terrible anxiety that comes standard with existence in modern human society…The victory of the Save Penrose movement then is not only one of logistics but one of meanings.”
September 1, 2011
Citizens, though ye may be weary, please read this item from the ALA Washington Office: BATTLE FRONT: Federal Depository Library Program….
September 17, 2009
The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a bill that funds the Philadelphia Free Library to stay open. News on their blog.
I’m glad but frankly still really disturbed by the whole thing.
September 12, 2009
Philadelphia has announced that they are closing all branches of the Philadelphia Free Library. I thought it must be some kind of a prank when I first read the news, because of the massiveness of the closure – all branches, not just reduced hours, not just some locations. Cities, counties, and states are in such huge trouble from the financial crisis, despite the tentative recovery, that Philadelphia’s closure will probably be the first of quite a few big closures.
It’s a disaster that may end up being a sad turning point in American library history, I am afraid.
May 23, 2008
CLOSED EPA LIBRARIES TO RETURN IN LAVATORY-SIZED SPACES; Political Appointee Asserts Control over All Libraries, Repeals 30-Year-Old Manual
“Ordered by Congress to re-open its shuttered libraries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is grudgingly allocating only minimal space and resources, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).”…
Thanks to Jonathan Betz-Zall for sending this info to the ALA Council list.
February 4, 2008
I have not seen this and make no endorsement:
Arthur and Esther, A Dark Comedy about Libraries, Lakes, and Lost Love…
June 29, 2007
I will simply refer you to the ALA blog District Dispatch and let you read it there…
May 17, 2007
This isn’t an analysis of a military action after the fact, as with last July’s reports of the destruction of a public documents archive in Nablus.
What is happening now is that Israeli authorities have issued a warrant to the owner of the building housing an important Palestinian library in Jerusalem, ordering him to evacuate the building so that it can be demolished to make way for the construction of a train station. The Al-Ansari Library on Saint George St. is one of the most important libraries in Jerusalem, and its destruction would mean a great blow to the cultural survival of the Palestinian people.
Thanks to Tom Twiss for sharing this news with the SRRT list.
May 11, 2007
Arch Conservative Bush advisor Grover Norquist has been pushing the “Starve the Beast” strategy for a long time. This is the strategy that says run up a huge budget debt and then a future Congress will be unable to support government spending. The “War on Terror” is obviously the great implementation of the starve the beast strategy.
So as the “beast” is starved, little by little, services that exist for the public good die off.
That’s the way to think about the threatened closure of the Savanna River Ecology Laboratory and closures of many other facilities, including federal libraries. In this particular situation, it has to do with the Department of Energy running out of money, and the guidance of Bush appointees on how to use what is left.
I hate to be pessimistic, but considering everything, what we are up against now, in terms of the survival of librarianship as an institution for the public good, seems overwhelming.
May 10, 2007
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski shared this information with ALA Council today…
The ALA Washington Office and ALA Council’s Committee on Legislation have started a wiki on federal libraries. The wiki says:
The purpose of this wiki is to share and track information on federal library threats, re-organizations, and closings. Based on discussions with members, the main focus is to facilitate reporting of threats or closings that will enable users to make comments about that specific library’s situation.
Not much is there yet, but it may turn out to be a very important resource for protecting these important information resources.
January 12, 2007
I’ve been tardy in blogging this…
The Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service has issued a report on the EPA library closures. That link goes to a PDF of the document hosted by the Federation of American Scientists.
Thanks to ALA’s Don Wood for distributing this info.
December 10, 2006
As you may have noticed throughout the EPA library closure situation, the government’s big justification for closing the libraries has been that it is a digital age, meaning that physical libraries have lost their relevance. We know that that is hardly true, but aside from that, shouldn’t this argument mean that we will see EPA library services shifting to the web?
The opposite is what’s actually happening. A news release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says that the EPA library is purging electronic records and reports and making them unavailable from the EPA library website, as a part of the library closure process.
This is proof that what is really going on is not a shift to the digital era but a large scale loss of access to important environmental information.