This post on surfacing was written by Rachel Korman with help from EveryLibrary board member Patrick Sweeney.
The first step for any political candidate- be it an individual or a library- is to go through the process of “surfacing”. Surfacing is when a candidate emerges into the public consciousness and creates a public identity for themselves. This is a critical stage of campaigning- any missteps in this stage can tarnish your image and stay with you throughout the campaign.
Ideally, surfacing would occur far before a campaign begins. This can really start as far ahead of your campaign as you can plan for, whether it be months or years. It would be far more beneficial for your library to already occupy a strong and positive space in your community before you begin discussing ballot measure issues. If the public already knows and likes you, your campaign will be stronger for it.
According to Kim Reiser in Gender and Political Communication in America: Rhetoric, Representation and Display, there are seven stages of surfacing. We will explore these seven stages in an EveryLibrary context- that is, what the library and librarian as a candidate would do during the surfacing process. Steps 1 through 7 listed below (all except the ‘Meta-step’) are identified by and as described by Kim Reiser.
Meta-step: Understand your own candidacy as a librarian
This is really a pre-step to surfacing. In order to present your library as a candidate in an upcoming election, you must understand yourself as a candidate and as a librarian. This will be covered in depth as part of our April 7 webinar on surfacing and the Political Landscape Memo. In short, you need to identify your goals, strategy, and tactics of your campaign in the context of your community’s political and nonpolitical groups.
Step 1: “Demonstrating candidates’ fitness for office”
It is important to know your institution’s incumbent record by examining past experiences during elections and how that may impact your next campaign. Past success or failures may determine how the electorate sees your library during current elections, so it is important to understand this to navigate how you will be perceived in the present and future. Demonstrating fitness for office will require knowing how to run against this incumbent record and being able to communicate your plan if the ballot measure is successful (Plan A) and the plan if the measure is unsuccessful (Plan B).
Step 2: “Initiating political rituals”
Rallies or campaign events engage the electorate and force them to pay attention to the issue at hand. Engaged citizens should contribute to political rituals by joining or even creating the Vote Yes committee that will carry out the Get Out the Vote Yes work.
Step 3: “Providing the public opportunities to learn about the candidates”
The “librarian as candidate” approach is effective in portraying to the public the different roles that librarians and libraries have within communities. Informational campaigning is necessary to educate the public on the value of libraries. Information campaigns about public libraries provide the opportunity to help continue to shift public perception of libraries and librarians over time. Changing public perception can be achieved through creative campaigning events. Having librarians in unusual places, such as librarians campaigning door to door, can be incredibly effective in impacting how people view the roles of librarians in the community while also allowing voters to learn about librarians as candidates.
Step 4: “Developing voter expectations about candidates’ personal and administrative styles”
Since libraries are funded by the public, librarians are essentially responsible administrators of the public trust. Voters therefore have high expectations of librarians and libraries-they expect good governance and good budgetary use. Libraries can emphasize their role as trustworthy institutions that act out of the best interests of their stakeholders to assure voters that their expectations will be met. An effective method of connecting with voters and establishing the library’s personal style is telling the story about one family or one patron during campaigns. For example, addressing ways in which the library fills in gaps in the community and helps ‘at risk’ community members. Find a story that is true and most likely to resonate with your own community.
Step 5: “Determining main campaign issues”
The main campaign issue is whatever will be on the ballot. Create and follow a strategic plan for your campaign. In an information only capacity, the library can convene civic debate. For example, by holding public meetings on architectural plans for a bond or engaging community members during a budgetary hearing.
Step 6: “Separating frontrunners from the rest of the candidates”
The frontrunners are the opposition to progressive taxes (aka the “zero-sum” folks). They oppose the philosophy of taxes and not always the library itself. You need to differentiate yourself from this group by getting early messaging out about how the library can be a stronger and more positive institution with the funding on the ballot. You need to actively message the need/value in a campaign whether there is active opposition or not. So, that when the opposition surfaces, you can continue to build on the positive perception of your library instead of reacting.
Step 7: “Establishing candidate-media relationships”
Media relations are a core part of surfacing. Consider the communications landscape in your community. Formulate a strategy for how you will approach the media during surfacing. Think about how you can include other stakeholder and advocacy groups. Begin to have a positive presence in the media.
This week’s Lib Elections News
One new measure came across our radar this month. The Findlay-Hancock County Public Library (OH) will have a 0.5 levy renewal on the ballot on May 5th. The 5 year renewal will generate about $725,792 or 30% of the budget. Also, on February 9th, the Rockport (ME) Select Board denied a request to put a measure on the June ballot that would limit any expansion to the library to its current location. Last November, two measures were voted down to examine opening a new library in a new location. There is currently a study being done on the location for expansion and the board felt this proposed ballot measure could be limiting and even harmful.
In April we will be doing a series of political and community advocacy webinars on makingithappen.us the new librarian culture magazine. Even if you do not have a ballot measure planned, these webinars can be useful in developing message and library support in your community. Whether you are anticipating budget cuts or are unfamiliar with the political landscape in your community these webinars will provide helpful knowledge that can get you started with messaging and local advocacy. We hope you can join us in April!
That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!