EveryLibrary is the first and only national organization dedicated to building voter support for libraries. We do this in three ways: by training library staff, trustees, and volunteers to plan and run effective Information Only campaigns; by assisting local Vote Yes committees on planning and executing Get Out the Vote work for their library’s measure; and by speaking directly to the public about the value and relevance of libraries and librarians. Our focus on activating voters on Election Day is unique in the library advocacy ecosystem. This is reflected in the training and coaching we do for campaigns.
EveryLibrary is a 501c4 organization. While 501c4s are commonly called “political action committees”, they are designated in the IRS code as Social Welfare Organizations and are chartered as tax-exempt groups in the public interest or for the common good. EveryLibrary’s work is political because we advocate with voters for library revenue and authority ballot measures. Our work, however, is entirely non-partisan and never touches on candidates for office at any level of government.
To run a successful library ballot measure, two key groups of stakeholders need to activated: the library Information Only team and the local Vote YES committee. EveryLibrary works with both groups in important but different ways. The local Vote YES committee is able to conduct the a full range of Get Out the Vote activities, and EveryLibrary provides consulting and capacity-building to help them succeed. But because library Information Only teams are limited in what they can and cannot say on public time, they need specific, experienced guidance for their outreach efforts. EveryLibrary provides specialized Information Only training and coaching to staff, trustees, and volunteers that helps them be effective communicators.
Our Information Only Training Philosophy
We base our Information Only campaign training on data about voter behavior that demonstrates two equally important facts for Election Day: that the perception of the library as a “transformational institution” in the community matters to voters; and, simultaneously, that the perception of librarians as “change-agents” for the community also matters to voters. Our training and coaching for Information Only campaigns is designed to update the perception of the library as a relevant and active institution in the community while we coach staff on opportunities to be more visible themselves as active partners for community-based outcomes.
Our Information Only trainings also address an unfortunate and long-standing misperception that those who work in publicly funded libraries cannot speak about a ballot measure on public time or with public money. EveryLibrary takes a position that the library staff and trustees have a responsibility to tell the public about what a ballot measure will do if it passes, and what will happen if it does not. In many library elections, a strategic plan or building plan is the impetus to go out for a vote. We train and coach on how to best represent “The Plan” for the library to voters. Because we base our training and coaching on the strategic or building plan for that library, staff have a legitimate reason to communicate the information about that plan – on public time and with public funds – so voters can make a decision about their own library.
Because we understand that voters are activated not just by their perception of the institution but by their view of the librarians and staff, EveryLibrary roots our training and coaching on the best practices used by political campaigns to feature their candidates’ biography and vision for communities. While the library strategic or building plan speaks to the institutional relevance, the techniques we feature in our trainings encourage and empower staff to recognize their role as the personification of that institution’s work. We know that library users and non-users behave differently on Election Days – as voters – than they do the rest of the year and we train the staff, trustees, and volunteers to anticipate that.
Engaging EveryLibrary to Train and Coach
Our training team works with library leadership as early as possible in the campaign planning calendar. We begin by interviewing the director, the management team, and the library board concerning the type and timing of the ballot measure, the strategic or building plan for the library, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the library staff and citizen-leaders. We also assess the communication and outreach skills of the staff and volunteer pool, clarify the current political and civic climate in the community, and address the perception of the library in the community relative to other stakeholder groups. EveryLibrary likewise offers information about our philosophy and training approach to the library. When a decision is made to host training sessions or to engage in a longer-term coaching relationship, it is done mutually. Our training and coaching is provided free of charge to the library through the support of our donors.
How EveryLibrary Trains and Coaches
Each training is customized and informed by our understanding of the library’s current strategic or facilities plan, its local political and civic situation, and the level of experience that staff, trustees, and volunteers have with outbound communications. While we evaluate and prioritize an outreach plan based on each ballot measure and library, we focus on three specific outcomes for each training:
Improve staff, trustee, and volunteer familiarity with Measure-specific issues Improve staff, trustee, and volunteer competency with Information Only campaign techniques Improve staff, trustee, and volunteer understanding of legal and ethical issues for Information Only campaigns
Our trainings are interactive learning and discussion sessions that take between a half- and full-day, depending on need. Each session includes personal and group work that is practical and actionable, along with active learning about both the theory and practice of campaigning.
A typical training session addresses the following topics:
Library Campaign Theory The Librarian as Candidate Measure-Specific Discussion Ethical and Legal Issues Personal Evaluation Community Stakeholder Inventory Prioritizing Outreach Assignments – Staff and Trustees Calendar for Outreach Feedback Protocol for Staff and Trustees Focusing on the Day After the Election
Our coaching priorities are based on how close we are to Election Day as well as the practical needs of the library staff, trustees, and volunteer leadership. EveryLibrary does not engage in day-to-day management of Information Only campaigns for libraries. Our work as trainers and coaches is intended to fill-in the gaps in information and skill-sets. To do this we:
Identify and Improve Skills
Coach through role playing to provide a baseline experience in conducting ballot measure outreach. Provide guidance to staff about a neutral frame for all library communications in the library, at events, in the media, on social networks, and online. Evaluate and coach early outreach efforts to improve effectiveness.
Set the Messaging Environment
Develop an “outreach script” for staff and trustees focused on the talking points for the campaign and rooted in the strategic or management plan for the library and germane to organization-to-organization outreach. Develop a set of “Talking Points” for staff, trustees, and volunteers to use in the library and at special events that is focused on questions from the public. Provide guidance on building a ballot measure-specific set of web pages to provide detailed information for the public on: the history of the measure; impact on taxes if passes; impact on service if passes; impact if it does not pass; and legal or public disclosure around the process.
Address Legal and Ethical Issues
Provide guidance relevant to Trustees, Friends, and Foundation leadership on the role they can have in Information Only campaigns as well as the limits on individual speech that may exist for specific events or locations. If library staff are unionized, discuss the significant and important differences between union activity and paid-time activities.
The Day After the Election
EveryLibrary identifies the day after an Election as being an important focus of our trainings and outreach. As designed, our coaching creates a new and significant cadre of local stakeholders who have an up-to-date understanding of the library’s work and a personal contact point with staff. Win or lose, librarians have a powerful opportunity to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones in the context of campaign communications. If the measure passes, a broad-based coalition has begun to form for the library which can and should be nurtured. If the Measure fails, a cadre of stakeholders has been activated for the library and can more ably address the funding or service gaps which a loss always creates. In either event, the library staff have cultivated new friends, allies, and endorsers who will be better community partners – not just for service delivery but also for funding, leverage, and synergies that positively impact the library.