Most libraries know what it’s like to struggle with finding funding. Getting a levy or tax hike passed is hard work. Living through lean times that freeze hiring and stifle collection development can be trying. But when the rug gets pulled out from under you suddenly, it can be even worse. In order to provide some assistance when eleventh hour budget cuts come knocking, EveryLibrary, the political action committee devoted to strengthening the place libraries have at the civic table, is working on a new program with just these sorts of dilemmas in mind—the Rapid Response Fund, a pot of cash meant to give libraries facing sudden budget cuts the tools to rally supporters quickly and fight back.
According to EveryLibrary founder John Chrastka, situations that could benefit from the aid of the Rapid Response fund come up with troubling regularity in libraries around the nation. While city councils and other officials who control local purse strings have a regular order that generally functions to keep funding levels predictable, there are instances where those groups, or just a single member, can disrupt that order and call established budgets into question.
Chrastka pointed to last year’s attempt by a Parish Council member in LaFourche Parish, Louisiana to divert funds earmarked for the local library towards the building of a new jail instead as one high profile example, but said that EveryLibrary was receiving calls for help from libraries in similar predicaments every month.
Those weren’t the kinds of calls EveryLibrary was initially built to field, though. The original vision for EveryLibrary was not to respond to these kinds of sudden funding issues, Chrastka told LJ, saying that the organization has previously concentrated on building strategic plans in the long term for its partner libraries. But when he started seeing situations like these crop up more and more, it became clear that the PAC needed a more nimble arm to offer help to libraries that needed a quick burst of support, rather than a strategic plan rethought from the ground up.
While the Rapid Response fund itself is new, it’s based on a model that EveryLibrary has seen success with in the past in places like Miami-Dade County, where the mayor announced budget changes that would have severely impacted Miami-Dade libraries last fall, near the end of the budget negotiation cycle. EveryLibrary helped to get funds to local grassroots library advocates, and in the closing days, ran a series of ads on social media that helped draw attention to the library’s plight and played a role in securing $7 million in stopgap funding in the budget for libraries. While it didn’t solve the problems in Miami-Dade, Chrastka said, “putting money in fast helped them live to fight another day.”
According to Ben Bizzle, a 2013 LJ Mover & Shaker and director of technology at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library who also serves as a strategic advisor to EveryLibrary, intensive marketing on social media is likely to be one of the main tools used by Rapid Response, as it’s easy to deploy on the fly and can make a quick, effective call to action. “The best way to reach people at the eleventh hour these days is from social media,” Bizzle told LJ, saying its a lesson taken from the good results many libraries have had goosing attendance with social media reminders in the days just prior to an event.
It’s also a cost-effective means of getting the word out to voters, advocates, and stakeholders. ”It doesn’t take a lot of money from our contributors for us to be able to make big financial differences in these libraries,” Bizzle pointed out. Rapid Response will be funded by individual contributions, as well as assistance from corporate sponsors.
To be eligible for Rapid Response help, libraries will have to meet a series of criteria, proving that their funding crisis was unexpected, that it can still be averted, that there are more than 100 hours until a vote or final decision, and that the library has a legitimate advocacy group ready to ensure the investment of funds will be met with boots on the ground action. It’s also a one-time-only action that libraries can call on in crisis. “If this is blowing up in your face every year, we need to do bigger planning,” said Chrastka.