November 21, 2017

EveryLibrary Prepares To Build a National Base of Library Supporters

Marking its fifth anniversary on September 5, EveryLibrary, a nonprofit political action committee dedicated to building voter support for libraries, announced its One Million Americans For Libraries Campaign. The initiative, intended to promote the importance of libraries nationwide, aims to garner one million Likes on EveryLibrary’s Facebook page—allowing it to reach more than seven million Americans every week, inspiring them to sign petitions, attend rallies, and vote yes for library budgets and funding.

Why this campaign?

When EveryLibrary works with a targeted community, typically it’s with a small group: the library board, the Friends of the Library, sometimes volunteers. “There are very few people who have been activated in a way that’s focused on the library,” said John Chrastka, EveryLibrary founder and executive director and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker. Moreover, the local nature of the organization’s advocacy means it has been starting over from scratch reaching out residents of each new community. So Chrastka asked himself how to change that, leveraging the supporters from one locale to aid another: “How do we get to the point where we have Bernie Sanders–size numbers, NRA-size numbers, Sierra Club–size numbers for our issue?”

In March, when President Trump released his preliminary 2018 budget calling for the defunding of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, EveryLibrary could reach only about 180,000 followers through its Facebook page., as compared to other issue-activist organizations such as the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign, which have 2 and 5 million Facebook followers respectively. Nevertheless, according to Chrastka, EveryLibrary activated more than 17,400 people to contact Congress. As Library Journal reported, this groundswell was, in part, what convinced Congress to reverse those cuts. “And that was accomplished with less than ten percent of our network taking action,” noted Chrastka.

At press time, EveryLibrary’s page was at just about 253,000 Likes. In theory, that means next time supporters are called on to mobilize, around 25,000 people could take action. “That is certainly an improvement. But having a network of one million Americans for libraries? If the math holds, that’s 100,000 people fighting for library funding,” said Chrastka.

“For years now, it seems, libraries have been working to promote and increase library advocacy,” observed Katy Dorchies, community engagement manager at Cranston Public Library, RI. “If EveryLibrary can share the amazing work they do with a [larger] audience, we’ll start seeing a more effective and more accurate dialog about libraries.” Dorchies has seen firsthand the unfortunate results of weak messaging. “As a full-time library employee, I now realize how…severe the misunderstandings [about libraries]—and their consequences—can be, a lack of funding, lack of support, and even lack of library use.”

Who are the one million?

In short, they’re everyone who loves, or has ever loved, a library. When EveryLibrary advertises a petition, or announces a call to action, it’s based not on whether they use libraries personally, but what they believe in.

“The vast majority of our Facebook page [followers are] Americans who have something in their heart, their head, or their gut that says libraries are important,” explained Chrastka. “And we found them not by buying lists of librarians, or asking whether they work in a library, but by talking to the public. Some of the people with the biggest capacity to extend support don’t use the library themselves currently, but they got their start there, are nostalgic about libraries, or just see [their] importance in the community.”

After Liking EveryLibrary’s page, supporters are urged to ask friends to do the same, using the “invite” feature. EveryLibrary has set up a dedicated page with tips and tools on effective ways to take action and to encourage others to join in as well.

“Most people don’t realize that, for organizations, Facebook is a paid platform. Without constant advertising investment, only about three percent of followers see any given post,” Harmony V. Faust, VP of marketing and communications for Gale, part of Cengage Learning, and advisor to EveryLibrary, told LJ. “For a donor-supported group like EveryLibrary, having a larger Facebook audience means they can more easily extend the reach of their campaigns.” While EveryLibrary does actively advertise on Facebook, as Chrastka pointed out, “Three percent of 1 million people is 30K in organic reach, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.”

Comments from EveryLibrary’s steadily growing Facebook supporters reflect its reach. Supporters have shared reminiscences of their childhood libraries, complaints about downsized services, concerns for the future, and—overwhelmingly—testimonies to the power of libraries to change and enrich lives.

They also sing the praises of EveryLibrary’s advocacy work. As commenter Roberto C. Delgadillo wrote, “EveryLibrary is the ONLY effective organization that lives up to its core mission of making sure that ‘Any library ballot initiative anywhere matters to every library everywhere.’ I am always impressed with their work and proudly support their efforts with a standing monthly donation. I strongly urge you to do the same.”

So what happens after the one million milestone is reached? “We keep going,” insisted Chrastka. “Moving everyday folks into an advocacy mindset takes time; moving librarians from simple advocacy into real activism also takes time.” Chrastka is proud of what library activists have done so far in 2017. “But we are going to need more in 2018 to secure a better future for library funding at all levels of government.”

Chrastka wants to see every state library association grow its contact list accordingly. “We’re good partners with many state library associations, and sharing the contact list is important,” he said. EveryLibrary also recently sent each state library organization a list of residents who have opted in to its email campaigns. “I’m a believer that there are even more Americans than one million out there who want to stand up and support the future of library funding,” stated Chrastka.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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