I was overjoyed when John Chrastka emailed to tell me about EveryLibrary, the new political action committee (PAC) he had just created. EveryLibrary will raise funds nationally and spend them on local library ballot initiatives like tax rates, bonds, and other referenda. It is difficult to understand why none of us in the profession nor our organizations did this decades ago.
The new PAC is a nonpartisan organization, registered under section 501c4 of the U.S. Internal Revenue code. The plan is that it will also serve as a consulting organization for libraries on their political campaigns. We hope it will ultimately back the purchase of space and time in the media to deliver the message to voters on the value of and need for libraries.
EveryLibrary is not bound by the IRS rules against direct voter advocacy that have hamstrung the efforts of the American Library Association (ALA) and other organizations that maintain 501c3 status as “charitable organizations.” The IRS allows contributions to these groups to be deducted from federal taxes but forbids them from spending more than a small portion of their efforts or funds on campaigning. It also forbids 501c3 groups from doing any advocacy whatsoever for particular candidates. [A full report, “Library PAC Will Back Local Ballot Questions,” by Meredith Schwartz, appeared on the LJ web site].
“Any library ballot initiative anywhere matters to every library everywhere,” said Chrastka, adding, “Elections are the ‘last mile’ of library advocacy.”
EveryLibrary is currently engaged in an initial $50,000 fundraising round until November 7 to underwrite legal fees and create campaign toolkits, voter education materials, and messaging targeted to 2013 election initiatives. Chrastka expects staff will be added to help with library activities. He says EveryLibrary’s charter and bylaws will be shared with the library community in October for comment and feedback.
Chrastka, president of the Board of Trustees of the Berwyn Public Library, IL, is a partner in AssociaDirect, a Chicago-based consultancy supporting associations in membership recruitment and conference and governance operations. He served as director for membership development at the American Library Association (ALA) until August 2011 and is chair of the Illinois Library Association Fundraising Committee. AssociaDirect has no formal role in EveryLibrary, which will be governed by a three-member Board of Directors. A planned Advisory Board of 12–15 people from libraries of all types will decide which strategies and campaigns the PAC will sponsor.
Although EveryLibrary existed before the appearance of my column “Fix Library Advocacy” (LJ 9/1/12, p. 8), it seemed like an instantaneous relevant response to that critique of library advocacy efforts. It is exactly the right kind of library-focused endeavor.
EveryLibrary is needed now more than ever. Antigovernment and antitax forces have beaten back library enterprises much more frequently in recent years. As I reported in that September 1 column, mayors of several major U.S. cities have targeted library budgets for reduction despite their tiny share of city taxes. Governors from both major political parties have savaged state funding.
While it is obvious that there is still a massive reservoir of public support for libraries, the current political climate is eroding that work in some jurisdictions. The combination of economic recession and antitax rhetoric is poisonous to all public agencies and institutions, and libraries are no exception. EveryLibrary is a direct, aggressive way to combat these toxic forces. In the past, libraries have been able to ride out bad times and accept small reductions in services, collections, and hours. These losses have now become much too deep and are inflicting nearly fatal wounds to needed library service in too many places in America. EveryLibrary offers the first potentially effective way to begin to turn the tide.
I will pledge my support for the PAC before the November 7 deadline. I trust that others will do the same.
John N. Berry III