This post is the fifth post in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.
I am often asked about writing compelling emails and messages to support library issues. Many campaigns are looking for an answer that tells them exactly what they should write to get people to take action for their library. For the most part, I try to refrain from giving specific advice about which message is right because different messages and languages work well in different communities or when delivered to different audiences. In fact, there are dozens of factors and many different data points that are considered when creating an email that includes an ask or that attempts to move people up a ladder of engagement. However, I do have a favorite structure that I use for many of my emails and blog posts that encourage some kind of action or next steps.
The problem, agitation, solution communication structure is often used by marketing companies, activist/advocacy groups, and almost everyone that is interested in getting people to take some kind of action. It relies on the ladder of engagement structure that I talked about in this previous post by making them aware of a problem, getting them interested through agitation, and then giving them an opportunity to engage in a solution. If you are on campaign email lists you can often see this pattern in many of the emails that you receive and some of the best performing Facebook ads, fundraising scripts, presentations, and blog posts that encourage action also follow this structure.
If you are looking to engage an audience in fundraising, taking action, or getting more involved in your library, you can follow this basic outline.
Identify THEIR problem
When working to encourage other people to take action for your cause its always most efficient to start where they are. This means identifying how the problem that you are trying to solve affects their lives or is a problem in their life. For example, if we are interested in engaging with an organization, individual, or audience that values economic development and we want them to support libraries, it would be best to first frame libraries in the context of a problem in the economy. You would start this conversation by talking about how important the economy is in the community.
Agitate the problem
Once their problem is identified, then its times to agitate that problem. You can talk about how there are some serious economic issues in the community like high unemployment, low entrepreneurship, almost no structure of support for budding business owners, etc… Talk about how bad it is (or could be) to not have that structure in place. Highlight how the community might fail due to this lack of support for businesses and business owners. Take the time to play to strong emotions in this step.
Present the solution
Once they are engaged and ready to take action, it becomes an easy step to present your solution as a means for them to take action. In this case, you can talk about how the library offers a network of support to small business owners, or databases that help entrepreneurs gain a competitive edge, or even co-working spaces and high-speed Internet for new startups. More simply, you present the library as the solution to those problems that were presented in first step and then you ask them to take some kind of action.
Do not forget the action!
I can’t stress enough about how important it is to give them the opportunity to take some kind of concrete and tangible action as part of the solution. The entire reason you gave them the solution was to allow them to release the tension you built through action. There’s nothing more dangerous than drawing a hungry crowd. Even if it’s as simple as signing up for the libraries email list, a pledge of support for libraries, or a petition. Depending on their level of interest you might be able to make an ask for more high level actions like making a donation, volunteering, or speaking on the library’s behalf at city council.
If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.
This post is the fourth post in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.
Let’s talk about building audiences for library campaigns. Whether you are working with a ladder of engagement or building and testing messages for effectiveness, the key is to start with strong and well defined audience. Professional political operatives, fundraisers, and marketers spend millions of dollars building audiences for their campaigns because starting with an effective audience is the most efficient way to win a campaign. So often I see libraries sending broad messages to entire communities and then being disappointed with the results. If your audience is too large or broad, you will waste money messaging people who don’t care about the issue and your ROI will drop. Remember that you should only spend resources on putting your messages in front of the people who are most likely to care about it. If your audience is too narrow then you’ll miss people who are likely to take action for your campaign. Or, if you are working with a ladder of engagement (which you should be creating for each audience) then you want to make the most of your resources by starting with an audience most likely to be moved from one rung to the next. Starting with the most effective audience is one of the best ways to ensure success and efficiency for your campaign.
Of course, there are many different ways to build audiences for a campaign, but here are three of my favorite audience sources.
Voter File A voter file is easily one of the most obvious audiences and it is available fairly inexpensively from your board of elections. This is, of course, the best list to use to build political power in your community for your library. However there are many nuances to a voter file. A standard voter file often includes name, address, party affiliation, voting history, phone number and occasionally email addresses. You can buy enhanced voter files from companies like L2 that have a lot more consumer data or issue data or more accurate phone numbers (phone numbers on voter files are notoriously inaccurate). While a voter file includes everyone in a community who is registered to vote (often referred to as a universe), it isn’t often effective to target an entire voter universe. Instead, you can break down the voter file to target individuals who are registered with a specific party, or you can target the high propensity voters, or voters who live in various areas of the community. You can target conservatives in your community with messages that resonate with conservative voters or target progressives with messages that resonate with progressive voters. In the long run, targeting these voters with effective messages will help build up the political capital you need when your library goes to the voters so start targeting them years before you ever have to ask them to vote for your library.
*Please remember that it is illegal to use a voter file as a fundraising list.
AtoZ databases AtoZ Databases and ReferenceUSA are two of my favorite audience building platforms that are freely available at many libraries. This is one of the best list sources for likely donors although there are many different audiences you can build here. At EveryLibrary we often build donor lists and lists of large companies in a community so that we can target them for fundraising for library initiatives. Because the data is fairly robust and decently accurate, you can find out someone’s household income or value or find people who have a history of donating to a political or charitable cause. In Sunnyvale library we were able to download a list of residents by area code and then compare that to our list of users in that same area code from our ILS. By deleting any of the duplicates, we were able to come up with a list of non-library users in Sunnyvale. We could then run a direct mail campaign that targeted non-users to encourage them to come to the library. Of course, we could also upload those lists to Facebook and target them with ads or run a phonebanking campaign. With decent GIS software, we could even map out our areas of the highest number of non-users. The benefit of starting with AtoZ databases or ReferenceUSA is that you have the lists available to you with phone numbers and addresses and these lists are great for fundraising. My next audience builder is far more powerful and accurate, but you are left to find a way to cultivate the contact information for any follow up contacts.
Pro-tip – You can often find the email addresses and phone numbers of the executives of many of the major fortune 1000 companies in these databases to help you make the first contact.
Acxiom Axciom is easily the most powerful audience building tool for Facebook and many other digital platforms such as Twitter, Yahoo, MSN, eBay, and a few others but I primarily use it to target audiences on Facebook. These lists are best used for engaging community members in taking action on a ladder of engagement that starts with social media. Acxiom is a data company that allows you to request audiences by various behaviors such as buying habits, donations, consumer data, lifestyles, etc… You can request an audience from the Data Guru who then creates that audience in the platform that you are using or you can use their first person audience tool. In either case, this service is completely free because Acxiom makes money from you paying for ads on these platforms. The big drawback is that you don’t get an audience in a format that allows you to view names, addresses, phone numbers, or email. In other words, you can’t see who is specifically in the audience so you have to wait for their interaction with your data collection platform to get that information from them. If someone signs a survey or a petition for example, you then have their contact information for follow-up contacts. The benefit of Acxiom is that you can get a highly targeted audience of people that is extremely accurate. The are people who are most likely to sign a survey or a petition for your specific cause or issue and that can greatly reduce the cost of signatures through ads.
Targeting Once you have these audiences it’s up to you to decide how best to target them. For some audiences, you can simply upload the CSV with name, address, and phone number into your library’s Facebook account and start targeting them with ads and follow up with more contacts later. For other audiences it might be best to start by running a phonebank campaign and call each of them. In other cases you might have to knock on their door or send them a piece of direct mail. While I made some suggestions here, you’ll have to look at your audiences and make your own decisions or feel free to ask me in the comments below. No matter where you get an audience, try to build ladders of engagement for each one by understanding your goal with each of them.
Sometimes it helps to work backwards from your goal. For example, if you want more people in your community who are likely to vote for your library, then of course, start with a voter file. Or, if you want more donors, you can start with local likely donors from AtoZ databases. And, if you want more volunteers, you can have Acxiom upload a list of non-profit volunteers into your Facebook account and you can target them through Facebook ads with links to your VolunteerMatch page. These highly targeted audiences are the key to bringing you the highest ROI for your initiatives.
Other Audiences I have only barely scratched the surface of building audiences for library campaigns and initiatives. Major political parties, PACs, and causes, spend billions of dollars on cultivating the most accurate audiences they can and use data sets, voter models, test messaging, focus groups, etc… to win campaigns. One of EveryLibrary’s big initiatives is to build a lot of these datasets and audiences. But these are just three of my favorite ways to build an audience to start a campaign quickly and easily. We’ve worked with many political operatives who have their own tools and techniques for their own campaigns and initiatives. I know that there are many other sources for audiences and I’d love to hear where you like to get your audiences from or how you like to build data on top of your audiences to make them more effective.
If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.
This post is the third in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.
A power map is a visual tool used by many political campaigns, activists, and community organizers and it helps them understand their relational power structures in their communities and to map the power structures of local influencers and organizations. By working through a power mapping exercise a campaigner can visually see relationships that exist in a community making it easier to understand those relationships. Once these relationships are understood it becomes easier to see who should be targeted in a campaign and where a campaigner can exert pressure to influence the target. Likewise, visualizing these relational lines of influence in a community can help a library understand how to influence the local politics and power structures. It can also use a power map to identify potential coalition partners and donors as well as persuade local individuals of influence to take a favorable stand for the library. Not only can a power map be used to map the power of an outside organization or individual, but it can also map the power of the library in order to better understand the library’s power structure in the community.
Step 1. Identify the Target
An organizer begins power mapping by identifying a specific person or an organization that they are going to engage or influence. The target for the campaign is the person or organization in power that can address the issue that the library is working on. For example, if the library were interested in convincing the mayor to keep from cutting library funding, then the target would be the mayor or if the library was looking to get a big donation from an organization, then the influential members of the organization like the Executive Board or the CEO would be the targets.
Step 2: Plan Their Action
Once an activist knows who their target is, they are going to need to know very specifically what action they are going to ask the target to take. Since the target might have other ideas about how to or why they should help the library achieve its goals its important to make it clear what is being asked of them. It’s also important that the action that take is specific and actionable. This means that a campaigner is going to ask them to go beyond just saying that they like or support the library. Instead, they are going to be asked to vote for your library at the May 2nd Council Meeting or they are going to be asked to write an editorial in support of the library bond measure to be published before the November Election. An activist would think about this as an opportunity to ask only one question of a person of influence in the community. Don’t want to waste it by asking for something that the target doesn’t have to give a solid commitment to or won’t lead to an action.
Step 3. Identify Relationships of the Target
Here the activist would brainstorm as many of the relationships that are associated with the target. It’s important to think as broadly as possible in this step. These relationships can include work, family, religious, neighbors, social groups and society’s, or political organizations. It’s important to not leave anyone off the list. Even if the library is not going to use family members to get to the target, simply listing them helps the brainstorming process and could lead to other potential lines of influence. It’s important to take the time to thoroughly research the target by looking up political or charitable donations and any volunteer activities that they may have participated in. Once you have this list, its important to start thinking about who and what these associations are connected to. Occasionally, in order to reach the target, the starting point may be 2-3 degrees of separation from the target.
Step 4. Draw the Relationships
Once the relationships are identified they need to be mapped to the target. This is a process of drawing the relational lines between each person on the list to the target. Some of these lines will interconnect and show that there are strong connections between the target one or two relational nodes. For example, if the target is a member of a local social club and there are multiple connections between the club and target then the social club is a much stronger influencer on the target. Also, many times there are nodes of power that aren’t directly connected to the target. For example, if the target was not a member of a local social club but many of the people of influence around him are connected to it, then it may still be a strong node of influence on the map.
Step 5. Target the Relationships
Now it’s time to take a few moments and analyze the connections in the map and decide how to use them. Look at who or what has the most lines of influence between the target and the library or the organizer’s own networks of influence. For example, if there is someone in the library that connected to this example target’s social club, then the best initial step may just be working within that social group to influence the target’s wife, neighbor, and business associate. Or, finding some way to put pressure on the social group to take a pro-library stance may have a positive affect on the target since there are so many connections between the target and the social group even though the target is not directly connected to the social group. Or, it might be most beneficial to put pressure on local big donors to entice the mayor to take action to influence the target. Of course, it may be as simple as taking the time to talk to the wife of the target about how important libraries are to young or new mothers and letting her put pressure on the target to take some kind of pro-library stance or take action on behalf of the library.
Step 6. Make sure it happens
While all of this planning and power mapping is great, someone has to make sure that it happens. A good activist always puts someone in charge of an action and gives a deadline for that action. Instead of saying that “We should do this activity” they would say that a specific person would get an action done by a specific date.
If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.
The problem is that it shouldn’t have to be librarians who are marketing and advertising the things that libraries are offering like databases and our various collections. The ones marketing their products to the public should be the ones selling those products to us. If some database company wants my library to buy their product, there should be a demand for their product. If nobody uses their latest proprietary database on the mating habits of the Great Spotted Alaskan Chinchilla, then my library just simply shouldn’t be buying it.
Why are librarians the one stuck paying for a product, and then having to pay to market that product to the people to make sure that demand is high enough to justify buying that product? Why do we have to do their work for them? This is not how it works with any other industry.
Here’s my analogy;
The mom and pop stores on the corner of my block carry all kinds of Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, whatever… But, not once have I ever seen an ad on FB, on TV, on the Radio, in the Newspaper from the corner store telling people how delicious Pepsi is. They might advertise that they have it, but they’d never advertise that anyone should drink it over anything else. You know why? Because Pepsi advertises that people should drink Pepsi, which makes people demand Pepsi, which is why stores offer Pepsi.
But in our case;
A database company sells their database to the library.
But that’s it! That’s all that happens! Then its up to the library to make sure anyone uses it or cares that the library is paying for it. The library has to convince the public that it’s a good product AND the library has to expend resources telling people that they library offers it. The library pays for the opportunity to offer a product nobody wants because the company that makes the product doesn’t spend any resources to tell people how great their product is. It’s as if libraries are paying twice for the product and being forced to do all the big vendor’s work for them as well.
But here’s something to think about.
If one of our database companies started using their money, not to advertise to librarians that they have the product, but to advertise to the people that there is a really great product offered at their local library, then the libraries would have to offer their product due to demand AND people would know that libraries are offering these products. Essentially, by advertising to the public about what their products are offering and how great they are and that they are available with a library card then more libraries would have to buy those databases due to increased demand and libraries would get more people to use their services. Because of this we will also get more engaged and educated library users and that translates into more library support which translates into more funding for libraries which in turn translates into more money for library vendors since more people will be demanding their databases.
What do you think? This was really just a quick and rough brainstorm that I had and it was too long for a tweet so I wrote a blog. Am I totally wrong on this idea? I’d love to know that I’m wrong.
This is a post that I’ve been working in various forms for about 3 years. There’s a lot of background and explanation here and I’ll even cite my sources where I can. Essentially, I’m going to make the claim that advocacy and politics in America has been hijacked by a sadly necessary extremism and that for libraries to continue to exist as we know them we need to get on board with the rhetoric. If we don’t learn to start to talk about libraries in a severely emotionally meaningful way that engages and activates our most impassioned supporters, libraries will be next on chopping block. We can’t allow this to happen because libraries are one of the few truly great institutions to come out of the American Government.
Before I really get into this, I’d like to point out that this is not a partisan issue. I have seen these tactics in use by every political party. I’d also like to point out that I’m a pretty hardcore moderate and I have a strong and healthy distrust of both progressive and conservative parties as well as low faith in both the government and corporate power structures. I’m going to do my best to pull examples from as many different arenas as possible for a fair and balanced discussion of the issue that should make everyone equally angry.
This all begins with my own blog and why I essentially stopped blogging. The truth is that I was frustrated about what kinds of posts got the most hits. A few years ago I realized that the posts that “did the best” were ones that were inherently mean spirited or controversial for their extreme views. For example, I wrote a post about Second Life that was intentionally mean spirited and to this day it is my most read piece. The thing to realize about this post is that I never really said anything important. There was nothing in there that would move anything forward. Libraries were already dropping Second Life and by the time I wrote the piece the virtual landscape was already a ghost town. On the other hand, I wrote a number of other posts that I think were more important but didn’t have anywhere as close to the same level of emotional reactions, emotion, or rhetoric and they were hardly read at all.
Of course, we could make the argument that the other posts weren’t as well written, or as timely or whatever, but really, the biggest difference is the level of emotional sensationalism. I really don’t hate Second Life, I really don’t care at all about Second Life, but I had the chance to write something in the extreme and see what happens. I was so disappointed in the broad and deep response that my number of blogs written per week almost drops off completely after that experiment. I went from writing one blog a week, to one every month or two. That was 4 years ago.
When I realized that these are the kinds of articles and blog posts that get the highest ratings I began to notice what was happening in the commercial media sphere. Everyday online it seems like there is more bad news, or emergencies, or constant state of urgency in the world around us. There are constant streams of vicious and witty criticisms and very few appraisals of positive viewpoints or constructive ideas. I realized that this was because moderate ideas simply don’t attract reaction or generate the ratings and views that are necessary to raise revenue or resources through encouraging actions or ads or donations. For example, this article criticizing adults for reading comics. There was really no point in writing this article because it doesn’t move any discussion forward, its poorly written, and it doesn’t matter if adults read comics or watch superhero movies and essentially has no real affect on the world. However, because it is an extremist viewpoint and wild criticism of a popular and generally well liked pastime, this article appeared multiple times on my social media feeds with varying levels in indignation. It was clearly being well read and circulated.
Recently, I left full time library work to work for an organization called EveryLibrary. If you haven’t heard me talk about EveryLibrary let me quickly fill you in. EveryLibrary is the first and only National Political Action Committee for Libraries. In the last three years we have helped libraries win local measures for library funding to the tune of almost 100 million dollars. Because EveryLibrary is about libraries, it’s a non-partisan issue, which is one of the things that I, as a moderate, really enjoy about it. But because it’s a non-partisan issue, I’ve attended webinars, trainings, conferences, read books and professional literature, followed campaigns, etc… for just about every political party in the United States. These trainings came from the Tea Party or the Libertarian Party or whatever flavor of progressive politics they were and were essentially all over the political spectrum.
I say all this because my work with EveryLibrary combined with these trainings have also reinforced my belief in the necessity of more extremism in our advocacy efforts. When we write for EveryLibrary we noticed that some of our posts or emails get a much higher level of engagement than others. While we understand that library issues are highly complex and require complex solutions we noticed that when we explained those issues in an educational and informational way that lays out the full scope of the issue, they were generally left unread by the professional public and the public at large. However, the ones that have the highest level of emotion, the least amount of complexity, and least amount of real information or solutions are the ones that get the highest levels of donations, the most shares, the most likes, and are the ones that are most widely read. What’s the point of writing something educational if nobody reads it to be educated?
We have many examples of this stark contrast between informational or educational posts and emotionally extreme posts. For example, when we post articles about how important libraries are for businesses and startups and how those kinds of organizations can take advantage of the services of libraries, we get very few click-throughs, almost no shares, and we get even less donations. But, when we post that libraries are being attacked by the Koch Brothers we can raise thousands of dollars and have hundreds of people sign up to support libraries in a matter of hours. There is a guttural emotional reaction to the idea that wealthy billionaires are working to strip services away from the American people and there is no sense of urgency in learning that businesses and startups can benefit from the services of libraries even though providing a higher level of services to upper social classes would position libraries as more relevant and necessary institutions to those in power. It is, without a doubt, more important for libraries to learn how to better engage upper class and more powerful cross sections of communities than it is to know that the Koch Brothers are attacking libraries, yet there is no engagement there.
We also conducted A/B testing to determine messages that engage the highest amounts of people and return the highest level of actions take for libraries. We wrote emails that explained what positive things that libraries were doing and how they help communities and got very little return. Yet when we wrote something controversial or something that was more highly emotional and less deeply informational, we were able to see more donations, sign-ups, shares, etc… I have also seen this to hold true when we are attempting to activate people to sign a petition to fight legislation. Our calls to action that were informational went largely unheard and our calls to action that were highly emotional generated thousands more signatures.
While many people who work in the library industry have brought up the fact that they don’t enjoy our extremist posts, I would like to point out that those kinds of posts are generally not for them. People who work in libraries tend to be well educated. They tend to have a broader understanding of the complexities of the issues that surround library work. Librarians tend to be less motivated by reactionary posts about the Koch Brothers attacking libraries because they understand the full complexity of the issue at hand. For example, librarians are the people who know the difference between things like para-professional staff and MLIS credentialed librarians while the broader audience that we are writing for and the general population of people that we are trying to engage think that anyone who works in a library, from a page to a director, is a librarian. So, while I absolutely understand their concerns (I have them too), we aren’t writing for the people who are already engaged and have a strong understanding of all the issues, are already willing to take action for libraries, and are well educated on librarianship. We are writing to engage the public at large.
We can also see examples of the high level of success of this kind of extremist messaging beyond librarianship. We see it in the political discourse around minimum wage or abortion or the second amendment. You have probably participated in the discussions yourself or, if you haven’t, you have almost definitely noticed how the discourse between other people often slides into a highly emotional argument of sound bites and meaningless rhetoric and continues to decline into a barrage of name-calling rather quickly on all sides. What is interesting here is that, just like the issues in librarianship, the highly emotional and rhetoric filled views of these issues are not fully representative. Each of the issues are highly complex and require a deep level of understanding of the full scope of social concerns that surround them if we are seriously looking for a cure. If we think about each of these with a full understanding of them, we’d quickly see that soundbites like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” are wildly dismissive of the deep-rooted social ills that are actually behind high murder rates and, likewise, simply banning guns won’t cure the underlying social ills that cause murder either. For there to be a real solution, there needs to be a fully immersive strategy that undertakes the task of explaining all the possible solutions at each level and the people need to be educated about the entirety of the situation with holistic solutions at every level. So, these soundbites and simplified emotional rhetoric are clearly not the solution.
So why are such simplified and meaningless rhetoric to discuss highly complex issues so prolific? There is a sound reason for this. As we pointed out earlier, extremist propaganda returns the most extreme return on investment. Another example from outside of librarianship of a large ROI on an extremist action comes from US Representative Joe Wilson who yelled “You Lie!” during the State of the Union Address from President Obama. His campaign for re-election raised millions of dollars from his supporters in the next week. Joe Wilson was then able to use those resources to go on to defeat his general election opponent, Rob Miller. Joe Wilson was able to use his extremist outburst to drive up donations to use as resources to win his bid for re-election. Of course, this isn’t just limited to candidate campaigns, we see a similar set of actions and outcomes play out repeatedly in almost every cause. That’s because these extremist actions are the necessary first step in allowing causes to have the money and identify the supporters and help them build the resources they need to take action for the actual solution.
Of course, Joe Wilson’s donations didn’t come from moderates. His donations didn’t come from people who could see both sides of the issue. His donations came from people with deep seated and extreme anger and resentment towards President Obama. People who kind of like Obama as president weren’t the ones who donated to Representative Wilson. It was the ones who hate and oppose Obama the most. What this proves is that extremists are the ones who take action. Not moderates. It’s very important to understand that extremists with extreme views who are using extreme rhetoric are the ones who give money, volunteer, and otherwise provide resources to causes. You won’t find someone who has only moderate views on an issue or is careless about an issue spending their hard earned money to fight for or against it.
What is also interesting is the very low percentage of individuals that give to campaigns. Bernie Sanders, for example, who has raised more money from individual donations for his campaign than any other candidate in history has received donations from 1.3 million Americans. While 1.3 million people sounds like a large number, when compared to the size of the general population, it is almost a meaningless statistic. There are over 330 million people in the United States and that means that Sanders has only raised money from less than one third of one percent of the population. The most successful individual donor candidate in the world has only been able to actively engage 0.33% of the public and convince to take action. This is also interesting considering that he polls at an approval rating of about 40% of Democrats and about 30% of Americans identify as Democrats or about one hundred million people. Since you do not have to be a registered voter to donate to a campaign, there are around 50 million people who potentially support Bernie Sanders (far less are willing or able to vote) and could be tapped into giving donations to the Sanders Campaign. Why then, do only 1/3 of one percent of Americans give? Because those are the individuals with the most extreme faith and belief in a country governed by President Sanders. The truth is that it take a very small percentage of extremist Americans to drastically influence politics.
All of this is to say that if a cause wants to exist, it needs resources to fight, and therefore it is in the best interest of causes and political parties to generate more extremism in order to get more access to more of the resources that they need to be maintain a sustainable fight.
So, if libraries are to continue to have the resources that they need to continue to fight for their existence then libraries need to find ways to identify and engage a small percentage of Americans who are extremist and ravenous supporters of libraries and who will take action and give those resources to library causes. Whereas, Bernie Sanders is supported by 50 million people, libraries have far more supporters than all of the presidential candidates combined. Libraries have an approval rating of over 80% across the country and across a wide range of political beliefs but we’re failing to engage the most extremist believers in libraries. Librarians need to understand where and how these extremist beliefs are generated and how they can be used and who they can be used on. Libraries also need to really take some time and look at the messages that are being used against them and take the time to understand the root of those messages in order to develop effective and emotionally charged counter messages.
One of our biggest weaknesses is that we know very little about the kinds of people who support libraries, why they support them, and we know even less about the people who are against libraries and why. For those other well resourced causes that we mentioned earlier as well as political party platforms, literally millions of dollars are spent every single year to research voter perceptions and motivations for voting or taking action on behalf of the cause as well as identifying messaging that works effectively and the kinds of people that it works on. Every single year, these causes of the most current and up-to-date data to help them fight. Whereas, for libraries,the only real study that has been done to look at the propensity of registered voters to support libraries at the ballot box was done in 2008 with 2007 data. This means that the data comes from a time that was pre-recession, pre-Tea Party, pre-any tax is a bad tax organized groups. Since then, we have had a major culture shift built entirely around the circumstances set up in the recession. But even with that study and disregarding the recession, we learned very little. For example, we know that people’s support or opposition to libraries is not dependent on their use of the library and we know that people are just as likely to vote for or against the library regardless of their political ideology unless they are extremist in their views on either side of the political spectrum. What should scare librarians and library supporters is that we do not have data to create a model of voters for libraries and we don’t have data to create a model of voters in opposition to libraries.
We can, however, look at some interesting trends in the comments on our Facebook Page. Because there is currently no funding for this research, this is where we are starting to look to build this data although it is a very poor source for data. One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that the people that comment positively for libraries are not extremist, but the people who comment in opposition to libraries are extremist. They are generally deeply neo-liberal or deeply neo-conservative.
For example, if you click on the comments below, it will take you to the walls of the commenters where you can see that the majority of their FB posts are almost entirely around extremist political rhetoric even though they are typically individuals who do not work in a political sphere. These are individual that have no reason to post politically because they are not major influencers in politics, they are not authors or personalities in politics, they have low “friend” numbers and are not engaged by comments from their “friends” or followers, and they are essentially impotent in the political world and have no real incentive to post any kind of political rhetoric.
I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with the beliefs of these two example cases. With their experiences and their understanding of the world around them, they are right to believe what they believe. However, it our responsibility to understand them and their ideologies and be able to respond to them in a way that’s meaningful to them.
What this does show is how strongly the kinds of individuals who oppose libraries are influenced by the political extremism of neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism. It’s interesting that, these individuals, without any personal influence on American politics, without any responsibility in American politics, and without any real role in American politics at all, feel so strongly that they only post American political rhetoric on their personal walls. This is especially alarming considering the wide range innovation in the world, the immense amount of venues for entertainment across hundreds of venues and mediums, the vast discoveries and inventions of the 21st century, and the potential for exploration of an entire world at their finger tips in the digital age that they would choose to almost exclusively post about American political rhetoric. Essentially they are focused on posting about a small sliver of the world in which they live and a very small sliver of the world in which they have almost zero influence. The obvious complete control of each of these individual’s mind is a testament to the power and influence of political think tanks, the vast resources and far reaching power of diverse issues, and the kind of extremism that is being tapped into in order to fund the fight for these various oppostional beliefs.
But, wouldn’t it be nice if libraries could tap into this kind of extremism? In fact, I would argue that it has become even more of a necessity for librarians to be able to speak in ways that tap into these kinds of extremist belief systems. We need to take the time to study and look into the reasons that people believe the kinds of things that they believe at such guttural levels. After all, these kinds of extremist views and these kinds of systems of support that are based in extremist ideologies where specifically developed for these outcomes. Why couldn’t similar ideologies be built around a belief system that is supportive of libraries?
One of the reasons this hasn’t happened in libraries is that we have never had the need for it before. Previous to the Great Recession, libraries have had the benefit of being so well supported by the general public that they have not even had to campaign to win elections. Libraries could simply place ballot measures before the people and about 85-90% of them would pass without the need for well-funded or well-trained and structured campaigns. That level of passing referendum is almost unheard of in almost any other cause and we can’t expect to ever surpass these levels again without highly structured and well-funded modern campaigns. But because libraries have never had the need to learn to be better politically positioned in communities, libraries have not had a strong culture of politics or political action in our day-to-day work. This is can no longer be the case.
Currently fewer library campaigns are winning and those that do are winning smaller at margins and are being even further eroded by legislation that require super majorities to win tax increases. We also seen more movement to fight against libraries like the recent movement by the Koch Brothers funded Super PAC to come out against libraries. Comparatively, causes that have had the benefit of years of research and careful construction like 2nd amendment rights, abortion, and minimum wage, have a level of extremist influence built through years of experience and deep pockets of resources that libraries have just begun to understand and don’t yet have access to. Organizations like our own EveryLibrary are only just beginning to build the data and research that we need to ensure that libraries continue to win at high margins. We are only just beginning to understand these extremist viewpoints and build extremism into our own rhetoric…. Like it or not…
But now its time for a solution. Libraries need to spend time and resources on data building, on focus groups, supporter ID, and message development to build our database of extremist supporters with key messages that we know will activate them to take action on behalf of libraries. This is one of the reasons that we created this Knight News Foundation Grant Submission and are looking for funding to continue our research into this area. For other causes this was done through well-funded think tanks with financial backing and big data resources. The need for identifying supporters is also why we created our Political Action Platform for libraries. It’s time for libraries to duplicate the efforts of national causes and political parties and cadidates and truly understand what makes Americans ravenously believe in causes to such an extreme that they will support those causes with money, time, and other resources. We need this level of extremism on the side of libraries in order to ensure that libraries continue to exist at all to continue to serve the good of the American people.
I spoke with Dustin Fife of Utah Library fame for his podcast and I spoke about what we can do to support school libraries, how we can win elections and ballot initiatives for public libraries, making libraries fun, and how we can all support each other.
I was speaking on behalf of EveryLibrary and the work we do as a political action committee that supports local ballot initiatives with training and resources pro-bono for libraries.
The most important thing you can do right now is get involved and sign a petition or pledge or, even better, contribute $5 a month to fight for libraries on our Action Page
I recently wrote about dropping everything but email and FB for your online strategy but I thought I should also mention some thoughts on everything else. I’m absolutely still advocating for your library to focus its use on just those two things, but of course there’s a bit more to it then that.
While you should focus your library’s resources on these two platforms, you should most definitely claim your library’s name across as many as you can. This is mostly because we may one day find a use for things like G+ and you don’t want someone else to have your name claimed. It’s also almost always free to sign up for a social media platform and at the very least capture your library’s username so why not do it. There are sites like http://www.knowem.com that will do the work for you if you want.
The other reason you should capture your library’s name is a bit more sinister. As Jason Griffey pointed out when Dale Askey was being sued by Edward Mellon Press, the law firm that was performing the lawsuit starting buying up any version of the URLs that could be associated with his name. This is just part of the due diligence of lawsuits in information age. We have also seen political campaigns buy their opposition’s URLs and claim usernames on social media as part of their counter campaign. This is not something that you want the opposition to your library or library campaign to do. Might as well get them while you can!
Using All the Others
Am I saying that you should NEVER touch another social media platform? Well, no. Not exactly. My post was about the most effective platforms for advocating for your library whether you’re in a campaign or just want to tell people about your library. There are ways to use other social media platforms that you might find useful. Here are some of the ways that I’ve seen social media platforms be used in a meaningful way by librarians-
Pinterest– You can find great Arts and Crafts, DIY program ideas
Meetup– Find local groups of people interested in specific topics that you can promote programs too
Twitter– Online reference. You can search by location and for people asking questions and then answer them. Think of it like digital roaming reference
Flickr– For the love of GOD!!! Please stop using clipart. You can find really good creative commons pictures for your signage and displays and ads.
Goodreads– I have seen some libraries do excellent reader’s advisory or organize book clubs
Instagram– It is so quick and easy to connect your Instagram account to many of your social media accounts if you want to share pictures across them. Why not?
LinkedIn– For your own career or to find quality and experienced presenters in your community on a variety of topics
Tumblr– It is a newer and younger growing community and I think it’s still best for librarians to use it for themselves as a kind of professional portfolio more than anything else at this point. But we’ll see what happens.
Whatever you do, you can still play with all the others. There’s no real harm in it after all. You might find something fun and exciting to use them for and you’ll be learning some new skills and how to critically apply new tools to your library.
A couple of years ago I did a presentation to NMRT on how to get the most out of attending the conference. Besides all of the amazing presentations, SWAG, networking, vendors, etc… There is a lot that you can do to put yourself out there and take advantage of the many opportunities to get more involved in the profession. I’m going to rehash that presentation and give you some tips and pointers to be more successful at ALA in Vegas.
1) I used to hate ALA and conferences in general. When I started my career, I went to two conferences and decided I was never going back. I realize now that this was 99.9% my fault. One of the most important things you can do at the conference is meet people and make new friends. Having friends at a conference changes everything. So get out there and meet people to be their friends and not just professional acquaintances!
3) Don’t mind the haters. There is always some kinds of drama, someone speaking poorly of someone else, someone expressing some kind of negativity. Its fine, we’re human, that’s going to happen. But try to avoid the negativity. If you don’t like something, just move on. There’s hundreds of things happening at any given time so find something you like before hating on something you don’t.
4) Likewise, project some positivity. Negativity gets a lot of attention on FB, Twitter, and maybe even your blog. But in person, it can be a lot different. Be sure to hype up people’s projects, thank them for their presos and time, and compliment people whenever you can. Be someone that people want to be around with your positive energy and smile and laugh a lot.
5) Showing up is so important. There are so many things happening at ALA that you can’t be at everything but this is your chance to try. Just showing up to the after parties and engaging people has been one of the best things for my career. You can go to bed early, but you’re going to miss out on the opportunities to sit and talk with you library heroes instead of just listening to them talk at you during their presentations.
6) Yep… After you show up, talk to everyone. Don’t be a wallflower. People WANT to talk to you. ALA is a great place where everyone will want to talk to you about whatever you’re interested in. Chances are that they’ll be interested in many of the same things you are. Librarians are all the same so if you talk about cats or Dr. Who you’re pretty much “in.” So while you’re sitting and waiting for that session to start, introduce yourself to the people around you. Ask them questions and get to know them.
7) One key to success is just finding that first person. The one other person in the conference who you can hang out with. Its much easier to engage with people when you have a buddy to do it with. Plus, you and your buddy can come and go together to events and that makes it much easier. You can also help each other find more people or introduce each other to the people that you both know and double your network.
8) What’s better than one friend? A dozen friends! Try and get a co-hort together. There are a couple of ways to do this through ALA like Emerging Leaders, running for ALA Council, but mostly its going to depend on you. If you’re having a hard time though, there are a bunch of ways to connect online before the conference. For example, follow the conference hashtags, the tumblarians on tumblr, or join one of the hundreds of FB groups for librarians like ALA Think Tank.
9) It’s easy to get involved and offer your hand in services. You can try to volunteer for the conference and connect with people that way. Offer to volunteer for one of the committees or do things that help people at the conference like Erica Findley’s party map.
10) Hey! You came to ALA and you put yourself out there. That’s the first risk you took. Now take another. Next year submit some program proposals, email people at ALA and ask them if you can help them with anything, do something big and exciting like organizing a meetup or a reason for a group of people to come together and do something in the networking uncommons.
11) People expect librarians do act a specific way or live up to some kind of stereotype. This is even pretty prevelant within the profession. If you’re out to get noticed, you have to do something unexpected. For example, Steve Kemple organized a huge and loud disruption at an ALA Conference and it was one of my favorite things to happen at that conference.
12) This one is easy. Start a blog or a tumblr or submit something to a professional journal to put your ideas out there and into the professional discussion. You have ideas and you should share them!
13) The authority at the conferences do things a certain way mostly because that’s the way they’ve always done it. But then some people came out and questioned why and help make the change. For example, this is how the Code of Conduct came about. People came together and questioned authority and made the changes they felt we needed.
14) People naturally gravitate towards people who aren’t afraid to make decisions. Even when those decisions might be bad ones. Of course, you’d never make a bad decision! But, if you have an opinion on something, don’t be afraid to share it. Get a dialog going and start a movement.
15) This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. So many people won’t give up their seats on council or on committees and some people are on a dozen committees. But there are opportunities out there like running for ALA Council, mentoring for NMRT, or getting a seat on a committee.
16) One of the best things you can do for lunch is ask around for people to join you for lunch. There is usually also a ton of great vendor socials or events for all of the meals of the day and the ones in between and you can typically find them using the conference hashtag. Or if you see a couple of people sitting around, ask if you can join them. If approaching a group seems intimidating, then try to find that guy or girl sitting alone in the dining commons and ask to join them. I’ve had some of the best conversations during lunch like this.
17) Even if you aren’t. Guess what? Everyone else isn’t that confident either. We’re basically all faking it so fake it with us until we make it. In any case, everyone likes you so go talk to them!
18) I’m not going to dwell on this one too much, there are SO many blogs and tumblrs dedicated to dressing for conferences.
19) There are so many parties and socials and networking opportunities at the conference. Go out to them. If you’re sleeping, you’re conferencing wrong. You can sleep when you get back to the reference desk.
20) No matter what you do, take this opportunity and make it happen. Whatever “it” is for you. If you’re just there to attend sessions, add to your tote bag collection, or meet John Green then don’t miss out on whatever it is you want to do.
Ok, I saw a lot of hate on the Slate Article about what librarians look like. The hate ranged from people being upset because the people were too diverse, to it being stolen from other people, to people being “over it” in regards to library stereotype articles. Basically, I think each of these are ridiculous for a bunch of reasons. The most offensive TO ME though is the people who hate it because they are over stereotype bending articles about librarians. Let me break it all down for you.
First, let me note that I am NOT hating on the article. I personally loved it a whole lot and this whole blog post is mostly about the fact that we need a lot more of them.
So these are really important things to talk about but I’m a mildly successful, middle class, fully abled, white guy with the difficulty level of my life set at “easy” so I’ll let other people make the arguments on this one.
Ok, I know the article looks and sounds like a bunch of other things that librarians have done. But can we please just get over the victim mentality on this. I’m going to write a much longer blog post on this mentality now that I think about it more. It’s really so much more than I can possible talk about here. But I can sum it all up by saying that it’s all been done before. For example, there have been train libraries, there have been libraries on donkeys and on librarians backs and on boats, there are probably 30 organizations building libraries in Africa, there have been tiny free libraries before, there are a thousand blogs talking about a million things, and guess what? Your library FB page isn’t original either. So instead, how about we just give props when someone makes something cool happen even if you’re trying to do the same thing because what you’re doing isn’t new either anyway. Let’s get on the same team here people!!
The REAL Message
Ok, you’re probably already mad at me and I’m cool with that. But, if you got to this point, I’m going to explain why I’m REALLY UPSET by people hating on it because they are so “over it.” I hear this every time librarians try to get a new message out about our stereotypes or more honestly, try to get a message out about anything. So let me talk about why that really irks me and why this just proves without a doubt that we need a lot more political and marketing and advertising training in our profession.
Let me start with what I’ve learned from my work with EveryLibrary and EveryLibrary California about the message in a political campaign. In every single book about campaign messaging and in every campaign message training I have ever been to, I have learned that there are three key strategies to remember about messaging.
1) Say the message
2) Repeat the message
3) Repeat the message
4) *free bonus strategy* REPEAT THE MESSAGE
This article’s Message
In the case of this article, it looks like there are two messages being played out in complimentary ways. I think that a first glance it appears that the message of the project is that librarians don’t look like what you expect. But when you read the actual text of the article, the message that stands out is that libraries are highly important institutions that do a diverse range of public goods. It looks to me like the pictures of these diverse librarians was meant to reinforce that idea in the text. But let’s look at the one message that everyone is talking about and the message that librarians are so over.
“Librarians are not the stereotype”
I think that there are a couple of truths that we need to recognize here. The first and foremost is that this wasn’t an article written for librarians to read at all. Basically, we’re talking about breaking down the stereotypes of librarians in the minds of non-librarians and not do anything in the minds of librarians. The second thing is that this conversation about changing the stereotype of librarians has been going on for a long time and it seems that most librarians want those stereotypes to change. We can debate about whether or not most librarians want that change or not, I don’t really care. But enough librarians want those stereotypes to change that it’s a conversation that we’ve been having for a long time.
So how do we make that change?
Well, we begin with the message that librarians are not the stereotype. Then we repeat it. In fact, we repeat it so much that we are tired of hearing it. If this were a political campaign, we wouldn’t even be discussing the fact that we are tired of hearing. In a campaign, we’re supposed to be tired of hearing the message. If we’re tired of hearing it, it means that the public is just starting to hear it for the first time. If we’re just tired or “so over” our message we’ve only just begun to do our jobs. To prove why that is, let’s do the math on that article.
Let’s be HUGELY optimistic and say that 1 million people read that article in just the United States. That means that after the views by everyone else in the world, and minus all the librarian views, that there are one million views by the public in the states. There are slightly more than 313 million people in the United States and lets just simplify that to 300 million. This means that just ONE THIRD of ONE PERCENT of the American Population saw that message. And finally, let’s be honest and say that in reality, probably only 100k people living in the United States saw the article. Guess what? We’ve only reached ONE THIRTIETH of ONE PERCENT of the population. So in these scenarios, to reach the entire US population, we would have to repeat this message 3 THOUSAND times at the million views mark, and 30 THOUSAND times at the more realistic hundred thousand view mark.
Now, let’s get even more serious. For campaigns, it’s widely accepted that for every 7 times a voter sees a campaign message, they register it in their mind once. At campaign trainings they also say that voters need to register it at least three times to be effective, and they need to register it ten times for it to be engrained. Ok… Are you following along? That means that we would have to put out this message AT LEAST 21 thousand times to register in the minds of US citizens just once at the million view mark and we’d have to write a similar article and put it out AT LEAST 2.1 million times at the more realistic hundred thousand view mark just to register it in their minds once. You want it engrained in their minds? Multiply those numbers by ten!!! Yes, we’d have to put out this message 21 million times to be effective.
More Like a Campaign
Luckily, in a campaign we typically only have to be effective with 50%+1 of the voting population. But even if we were to cut these numbers in half and add 1 to just the voting population like a campaign… Well, I think you still see how huge a national campaign needs to be. Now think of your state or town and how large even that campaign needs to be. I REALLY hope that one of the take aways you have from this is the size of a local campaign. Maybe a local campaign for your library?! This is way campaigns are so expensive and why EveryLibrary is so important.
I’m tired just writing this
So yes, you ARE tired of hearing messages about libraries. And you should be. And if you’re upset about a message going out once on an article like this one on Slate, just remember how little impact this one article actually has. It has, at most, 1/210th of a percent of an effect on the minds of Americans. So just be cool and praise the folks involved for getting it out there and then work on the message you want to get out. You’re going to need a lot of help on your message too.
Since this is my blog, I’m going to have to throw out a pitch for EveryLibrary California and what we are doing to get the message out about the importance and impact of libraries on the lives of Californians. We are running a campaign for $50 contributions to our fight for California Funding and every $50 gets the message into the minds of up to 38 thousand Californians. Consider making a contribution today.
P.S. I wrote this blog about the overall effect of this article on the profession in the minds of Americans.
I don’t know if you heard about the plight of Kentucky Libraries. In case you haven’t, basically the ‘any tax is a bad tax’ organizations started a lawsuit to roll back library funding across most of the state to funding levels from anywhere between 10-30 years ago. In almost all areas this will devastate the state’s libraries. As part of… well… As part of whatever it is that they’re doing in KY to open up a discussion about this, they made this survey to determine the need for libraries most horribly titled;
ARE PUBLIC LIBRARIES STILL VALID IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
There are some real gems of a question in this survey that show the agenda or ignorance of whoever made it. My favorite is number 9 that only allows you to give ONE answer-
9. What purpose do you see libraries holding in the future?
A place to borrow traditional books.
A place to borrow digital media.
A place for community members and families to come together and share new experiences.
A place that hosts computers and technology for those who don’t have access for educational or job-search purposes.
I don’t think libraries will be relevant in the future.
So even if you don’t want to take it, just looking at the questions will help you see what libraries are up against in KY and also across the country.
You can bet this survey spurred by the any tax is a bad tax organizations is being passed around those online forums across the country and being filled out by just about every one of them with an agenda. If you’d like to take it and restore balance to the force, here it is.
This war in Kentucky is going to gear up to be one of the biggest fights in librarianship in years. If the libraries lose the lawsuit, there are going to be dozens of ballot measures to regain funding across the state and we need to be armed to fund those fights. If you want to know what else you can do to help, here are a couple of suggestions.
EveryLibrary is watching the outcome of this debate in KY very closely and we are getting ready to take action as soon as an action becomes clear. So, you can sign-up to continue to get information about what EveryLibrary is doing here or, even better, you can support EveryLibrary with your contributions here.
The best thing you can do is actually attend the meeting in Campbell County Kentucky to show the relevance of libraries in the 21st century. Libraries and Librarians NEED to have a voice at this forum. We need you to attend!
Otherwise, you can share this survey or this blog post with your library supporters to ensure that the voice of librarianship gets heard over the grumblings of the anti-tax crowd.