A new report published March 29, “Core Customer Intelligence: Public Library Reach, Relevance, and Resilience,” brings together market segmentation from ten public library systems across the United States to explore how libraries can examine and act on granular data about their core customers—the 20 percent of cardholders who check out the most physical materials. Using 2014 customer and checkout data to group top library users by lifestyles, interests, preferences, and behaviors, the study drills down into community demographics to reveal that core customers aren’t found in any one segment of the population but occur across all lines, reflecting the diversity of their communities.
On March 15, the Plainfield Public Library District (PPLD), IL, failed to pass two referenda—a bond measure and a property tax increase—needed to raise money for a new library building. The ticket fell victim to a Vote No campaign consisting of mailers and last-minute robocalls funded by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a right-wing super PAC (political action committee) with an antitax agenda. Behind AFP lies tens of thousands of dollars from the billionaire Koch brothers, lifelong Libertarians who heavily oppose taxes, social services, and industrial oversight, among other government functions.
President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) budget request to the U.S. Congress, released on February 9 by the U.S. Government Publishing Office and the Office of Management and Budget, included $230,000,000 for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Of the total FY17 appropriations request for IMLS, $228,593,000 is allocated for programs and administrative costs authorized by the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), which comprises the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Museum Services Act (MSA). Some $182,429,000 would go toward programs authorized by LSTA: grants to state library agencies, Native American and Native Hawaiian library services, the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, and National Leadership Grants for libraries.
In 2015, nearly 150 libraries in 24 states held referenda to renew or enact taxes for operations, staffing, or facilities. More than 1.1 million voters showed up at the polls in 2015 to decide on tax measures for their libraries. Just over 650,000 people voted yes and nearly 470,000 voted no. Of the 148 library ballot measures we have identified (through news reports, surveys, and direct involvement of EveryLibrary, the national library PAC the authors work for), 127 were won and 21 lost. One, while technically passing, actually rolled back the library’s funding, making it, in our opinion, a loss.
The first time I encountered the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) was nearly 30 years ago. Almost miraculously, PLG has survived from just after the Reagan era through the Clinton and Bush years until Obama. It is still small but manages to publish Progressive Librarian (PL), a journal that combines rigorous scholarship with a strong ideological sentiment.
In Fall 2015, the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) strategy team gained two codirectors, David Giles and Story Bellows—urban innovators with strong backgrounds in government policy. Giles joined the library as chief strategy officer in November 2015, after serving as research director at New York’s Center for an Urban Future (CUF), which in 2014 published Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries, a report examining the physical and economic challenges facing the buildings that make up New York City’s three library systems. In his new role, he will provide strategic leadership around program development, partnerships, advocacy, and capital planning, among other aspects of BPL’s mission. Leading the strategy team with Giles is Bellows, who became BPL’s chief innovation and performance officer in October. Before arriving in Brooklyn, Bellows cofounded and directed the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Philadelphia, an in-house research and development lab aimed at supporting innovative approaches to civic problem solving.
The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries (DPL) unveiled its newest publication at a session at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting. The Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library, a set of resources to be used in connection with DPL’s report Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries, was released simultaneously with the session on January 10. On hand to launch the Action Guide were DPL director Amy Garmer; DPL advisor (and ALA past president) Maureen Sullivan; and John Palfrey, author of the recent BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google (Basic Books) and a 2011 LJ Mover & Shaker (among many other roles).
The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2016 Midwinter Meeting, held January 8–12 in Boston, was pleasingly free of snow—even if the temperature did fluctuate enough, from nearly 60 rainy degrees on Sunday to well below freezing Monday evening, to make packing light impossible. But weather uncertainties took a back seat to the overwhelming atmosphere of positivity at the Boston Convention Center and Exhibition Center and surrounding venues during Midwinter’s 2,400 scheduled meetings and events. There was a strong sense among attendees, panelists, ALA officials, and exhibitors of libraries being poised to step into the next phase—whatever that might be. Below are some of the event’s highlights; more detailed coverage will follow.
In Michigan, a new law that if signed by the governor will restrict the sharing of ballot information prior to voting has alarmed librarians and allies, who are calling for action. In a surprising last-minute vote on December 16 in Lansing, the Michigan house and senate acted in concert to send several bills to Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI). Among them was an amended version of Senate Bill 571, a finance reform measure, which included new language prohibiting libraries and other public resources from transmitting information about local ballot initiatives for 60 days prior to an election.
Public libraries in the United States have traditionally relied on local support for the vast majority of their revenue. While this is still largely true, the funding landscape is getting more diverse, and there is a greater need for libraries to be increasingly creative when it comes to balancing base funding with new sources. Money allocated at the local level rarely stretches far enough to cover staffing, operations, collection development, and programming, let alone experimentation to invent or test innovative new services. Local funding is also subject to political winds as administrations change.