Baiting the Gateway to Full Funding - with Food
Is any public library not in a political environment? To gain budget support, to garner allies in a censorship controversy, to plan for more current technology or a larger space - all public libraries need political support at one time or another. The best approach is to take the offensive.
Here's how we did it in Middletown.
Serving some 44,000 people and thousands more who work in or visit our central Connecticut community, Russell Library resembles many libraries around the country. However...
Factor in a population that makes extensive use of the rich collection (some 30,000 out of a population of 45,000 are active cardholders) and our exceptional cultural programming and extensive children's activities. Then add a public-service philosophy that has been a source of pride to elected officials, and multiply by a (wisely) nurtured relationship between the board and city officials over many years. As director, I can attest that the "sum" is Russell Library's wonderful reputation as a responsive, nonpartisan community asset.
As we began plotting out our budgetary needs for FY 1998-99, however, we concluded that goodwill wasn't enough to attain our goal of becoming a proactive global information center without curtailing traditional services. To achieve our vision for Russell Library (which we've encapsulated into the slogan "A Gateway to the Future for Middletown"), we had to convince elected officials that we needed an extraordinarily large budget increase for new technology, as well as capital improvements to create an area to put all that essential equipment. So, the staff and trustees developed a plan to win budget makers' backing for the renovation of a large area in the basement into a Technology/Periodicals Center and the establishment of a local area network.
We decided to invite Mayor Domenique S. Thornton and all 12 city council members to a dinner-time library orientation on February 5, well before departmental budget requests began. A staff team swung into action.
When a literature search did not uncover information on similar orientation visits, a staff member queried the publib listserv for advice. Among the tips gleaned there that we incorporated into our battle plan were:
* Developing graphs and charts to capture activities visually;
* Stacking the deck by arranging for true-blue friends to use every facility in the library during officials' visit;
* Providing "take home" information packets for budget makers (taking a lesson from the children's staff);
* Highlighting children's services;
* Tantalizing visitors with the promise of upgraded technology by showcasing how local businesses and residents alike already benefitted from current technology.
The consensus: Keep the orientation lively, to the point, and upbeat.
As city officials and board members gathered in our wood-paneled public program room that winter night, the atmosphere was especially cordial, despite Mayor Thornton's unavoidable early departure. Most of the City Council members, including the majority leader, attended the full presentation.
Food for thought
To whet their appetites, we supplemented our information packets by displaying photos and bar charts that documented library activities and usage over the past 20 years. On a tripod, we placed a sketch by board President A. Stephen Nelson (also an architect) of the planned Technology/Periodicals Center. Then there was the culinary piece de resistance: a catered spread of wonderful small sandwiches; fresh vegetables and dip; cookies and brownies; and punch, coffee, and light wine.
After everyone was fed, board President Nelson welcomed the group. Past President Hortense Kabel then succinctly summarized the library's first 125 years of service, emphasizing its long-time need to better serve young adults and gain more parking. …