Who Speaks for Us with Jamie LaRue

Kansas Library Association Conference | Virtual Conference Sessions | April 6-8, 2011

Finally taking time to listen to the archived Virtual Sessions from KLA – which I missed because I was in Montana.

Who Speaks for Us? by Jamie LaRue (for more about this topic, read “Keeping Our Message Simple” on p. 20, May/June 2011 issue of American Libraries)

1990 – Douglas County ranked worst public library in Colorado.  Long range plan included breaking from the County into an independent library district (predictable income, autonomous – similar to our District libraries).  Launched a campaign of shame – tried to embarrass people to vote for the change.  Succeeded in November, vote of 66 to 33.

1996 – Landscape had changed with arrival of a vocal anti-tax advocate.  “Tax payer bill of rights” = restrictions.  Went back to the voters for additional funding.  “You can trust us with your money and here is what we see happening in the future.”  Positive, strong endorsement from media.  November – won by 51%.  When a terrible library – had 2:1 support, when in the middle of the pack, just had marginal support in the community.  Confusing.

Went to the county for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps based on borrower address information – 51% had a library card!  Next layer = precinct results = Won where people had library cards. Belief:  “The way to win library elections is to go pursue registered borrowers.”  County grew rapidly (fastest in the US).  Marketed, investigated community to stay in synch.  Up to 84% of the community had a library card, so…

2007 – Needed to build new buildings.  Increase by 1 mil ($25 a year) – would set the library for next 15-20 years. Library was proven trustworthy, credible, and voted as a #1 in the US by Hennepin rankings.  Boast – library had gone from being the worst to the best!  Jamie didn’t mean any opposition on the campaign trail, but in November, the vote was lost by 51%.  Devastating – lost by 261 votes.

2008 – Jamie heard a presentation at the OCLC members council – VP of marketing talked about a new study with Gates $$ – From Awareness to Funding.  (Idea: Share Executive Summary of the report with the Board.)  Study showed that over the last 15 years, there was a consistent decline of library support – fewer library measures on the ballot.  Research presented was counter intuitive –

  • Library use has nothing to do with library support.  Story of the storytime mom who couldn’t afford a tax increase, but the 84 year old man who took pride in a well-funded library that he didn’t use!
  • Demographics have nothing to do with Library support.  November 2008 ballot measures in Colorado lost by 7,000 votes.

Jamie’s beliefs: developing excellent service, connecting to the community, trac,ing market penetration – all disproven.  Hypothesis he tested was proven wrong.  OCLC was correct.

What predicted if a person would vote for the library?

  • if a person had a memory of the library as a transformative agency – positive experience, positive memory
  • if it built community – part of the public good
  • if someone felt they had a passionate librarian – advocate of literacy and lifelong learning
  • Only = 44%, not enough to win an election
In Colorado an anti-tax advocate came back and proposed amendments that would have cost the library 90% of its funding.  So, needed to launch a NEW campaign to get our message out to the public.  Jamie realized that they needed to find people who were already persuasive, good speakers and well respected and give them a script based on research and brain research (how people come to believe what they believe) and send them out to speak for the library.  Jamie recruited from across the state – book 5 talks in different types of groups (business, faith-based, education, not-for-profit, cultural group).
Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal Web site and model for advocacy – free to use as you see fit
  • Problem statement (Google doc)
  • Presentation Script (Google doc)
    • Speakers were flattered when asked to do this script
    • Gimmick – can I have $1 for the library?
    • Framing Exercise (Dan Ariely – Predictably irrational) – interactive discussion with the audience about internet at home, netflix, tv, cell phone…add it up…then “what do these expenditures do for the community?”  End with – how much does the Public Library cost the average American household?  Guess high, but it’s really just $2.68 nationally.
    • Stories of Transformation – libraries are in the story business.  People come to believe things because there is a narrative they accept – make the stories personal, then they’ll be taken to heart.  Stories include: Person, Problem, Library intervenes, Happy ending, Message and Repeat.  Libraries change lives!  WE need to collect and share the stories of HOW libraries change lives.
    • Messages:
      • Libraries change lives. 
      • Libraries mean business. 
      • Libraries build community.
    • Closing Gimmick – loop back to the beginning – return on investment is $5 to $1.  Message – Libraries are a smart investment.  Source: http://www.douglascountylibraries.org/node/6357 and http://dpi.wi.gov/pld/pdf/wieconimpactpresent.pdf
    • Call to Action and Thank You (and take this opportunity to collect new library stories!)
    • Have a library staff person in the audience to answer questions and provide follow-up
We need to combat the decline of support – respond with heartfelt stories that bypass the rhetoric.  Have evidence to support what’s been said.
Individual libraries are free to swap out the stories, but the format needs to be followed.  The lesson has to be the same.  Change culture by repeating a message over and over.  Libraries change lives. Libraries mean business. Libraries build community.
Brain research – Jonathan Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis – We are not thinking creatures who feel but are feeling creatures who think.  We are not rational, we emotional.  Person with cerebral cortex damage = no ability to feel emotions = totally rational…but researchers came to understand That is not how we make decisions – we have a gut reaction/a feeling and then support with our mind using rational arguments.  Need the emotional connection with a story and narrative.  “Hush now, I have a story.”
Only by securing their hearts will we win the elections of the future.
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