On August 8 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, announced that it will provide its Analytics on Demand (AOD) service to EveryLibrary, a national nonprofit political action committee for libraries, free of charge, so that it may better analyze data about library supporters in advance of the November elections and on an ongoing basis for future campaigns.
As market segmentation data grows increasingly more sophisticated, libraries are coming up with ways to use this information to better provide services and programming. Launched in 2014, AOD combines anonymized integrated library system (ILS) data from libraries across the country with consumer demographic and lifestyle information from Experian Marketing Services’ Mosaic USA service to generate real-time reports on library trends. While the service has so far been used primarily by public library administrators, outreach coordinators, and marketers to gather information for strategic planning and public relations campaigns, EveryLibrary will be able to use AOD data to help find and target households whose residents will be likely to vote “yes” on library campaigns.
“Our goal is to build one of the biggest databases of library supporters, voters, and advocates in the U.S. and activate them to fight for libraries. We hope to share what we learn with the greater library community and build a better library ecosystem,” said John Chrastka, founder and executive director of EveryLibrary and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker, in a statement.
MOVING THE NEEDLE
EveryLibrary, a 501(c)4 organization that supports libraries during their election campaigns for budgets, bonds, and independent taxing districts, has found data on voting trends to be limited in its scope and currency. Because voting on library issues does not fall along party lines, it is much harder to predict in advance who will be more likely to vote yes on the ballots, or what messages will activate them.
“If you’re a Republican nominee then you can just call other Republicans. If you’re a Democrat nominee you can call the Democrats,” explained EveryLibrary political director Patrick Sweeney, a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker. “But with libraries, because we are so well supported on both sides of the aisle, we can’t rely on party lines to define who our voters are. In fact, when we do a campaign we essentially have to call or touch everybody on the voter file to find out whether or not they will support the library.”
EveryLibrary has traditionally relied on local opinion polling information gathered by libraries, as well as a 2008 report, “From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America,” produced by OCLC with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the report’s data, gathered in 2007, predates the economic recession as well as being “pre-Obama, pre-Tea Party, pre-big data on anti-tax and anti-government [movements],” Sweeney told LJ.
Gale has long been a supporter of EveryLibrary’s mission, helping them fund a different initiative each year for National Library Week in April. But Gale was interested in making a more sustainable contribution, said Gale VP for marketing and communications Harmony Faust. It’s an ongoing challenge, she told LJ, “for anyone in our industry to really move the needle at the scale that we need it to move. Our ability to give them a nice donation is great, and they get donations from other vendors in the industry too, [but] we’re all doing this advocacy in a vacuum…. The kinds of things that we’re able to do with our budgets really just result in these short-term spikes of interest.”
Faust brought up the idea to EveryLibrary leadership at the American Library Association (ALA) annual meeting in Orlando in June. “Patrick Sweeney and John [Chrastka] and I all were talking…about what a more meaningful contribution would look like from somebody like Gale in order to help them create a more sustainable ongoing effort,” she said. “When we heard some of the things that they were doing, and how they were going to be tracking their donor lists and trying to engage people in different ways, AOD became the obvious solution to that challenge.”
AOD’s lifestyle segmentation works on the same premise as similar services used by consumer marketers (or other library-oriented market segmentation companies, such as CIVICTechnologies), combining circulation information with household and neighborhood data. Powered by data analytics company Alteryx, Inc., AOD separates library users into 71 descriptive segments, which are then organized into 19 overarching groups based on age, ethnicity, education, employment, location, population density, behaviors, and interests. Libraries can run reports, and generate maps and charts, showing how different groups use their programs and services.
The information that can be gathered through AOD meshes well with EveryLibrary’s goals, explained Faust. In her conversations with Chrastka and Sweeney, she told LJ, “They described wanting to come up with this…grassroots model where you don’t need that many people in order to get a conversation going, you just need the really passionate ones who can amplify the message that you have to share.”
Working with this type of structured data is what AOD was built to help public libraries do, she added. Although a public library would export its user base from its ILS, EveryLibrary could export its list from its own voter data system. “[EveryLibrary is] just looking at donors rather than library users.”
EveryLibrary will be able to coordinate AOD data with information about voters from previous campaigns to help identify potential voting trends, as well as customizing the messages libraries put out to see what might best resonate with sets of voters—known as A/B testing. Currently, explained Sweeney, EveryLibrary does A/B testing with its client libraries from scratch on nearly every campaign, “which is costly and inefficient.”
Efficient voter targeting is crucial for EveryLibrary’s clients, he added. “Every dollar matters to these small library campaigns who don’t want to spend a bunch of their time and money and energy on people who aren’t going to vote yes for the library.”
“That was the obvious parallel [with] EveryLibrary,” noted Faust.” Even though they’re a nonprofit, they have a lot of the same constraints and goals as a public library, and they’re working on behalf of public libraries, which made it even more perfect. EL and actual libraries have limited resources that they need to make sure they’re spending in a very focused way, where they have the best chance of having the most impact. You have to have good insights and good data in order to decide where you’re focusing.”
Faust also hopes that EveryLibrary’s work with AOD will encourage libraries to use it as a tool for outreach as well as analytics of the existing landscape, enabling them to better tell their stories. “You have to know your community in order to engage it,” she told LJ. “There’s not a common vocabulary, necessarily. You have some of the same usage trends and perception issues that persist at the national level, but you’re still so local in terms of your reach as a library.” Libraries can benefit from having common tools, “and then seeing how other people are reaching out to their community and getting support, not just at election time but all throughout the year.”
Gale’s partnership with EveryLibrary, however, is a good place to start, Faust said. “It’s a good opportunity for two organizations that love libraries to come together and see if we can really activate the base of library supporters that we know is out there, in a way that’s going to help us all operate at the scale that we need to.”