One library’s creative advocacy campaign to #SaveIMLS

In light of the threatened cuts to IMLS and federal library funding this year, we have seen an outpouring a support and an increase in advocacy efforts by librarian across the country. Over 42,000 emails were sent to the House and Senate during the Fight for Libraries! campaign alone! But many libraries did not stop at phone calls and emails.

In April, Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library decided to showcase how different types of funding (including state and federal) help the library to provide valuable services for their patrons. The librarians tied balloons around objects and materials in the library, using different colored balloons to signify the different funding sources that made the resources possible. The result was a low-cost, eye-catching campaign that got the patron attention they were hoping for!

Balloon color key:

BLUE: Groups such as Friends of the library, Hooper Fund, Cape Ann Savings Bank
RED: State, federal support with grants, networks, deliveries, e-materials & more
YELLOW: Private gifts and donations of funds, materials, and resources

Balloons signifying different funding sources at Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library Source: Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library

We interviewed Kate Stadt, the Head of Youth Services at Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library, about their creative response to the President’s budget and the proposed cuts to federal library funding.

What prompted you to put together this campaign?
This campaign came about as a response to the threat to see the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) defunded. We thought the campaign would be a great way to visually show patrons what services they use thanks to all sorts of funding, from the generosity of private donors, the Friends, and the Trustees, to the massive support from the federal and state governments. We were thrilled by the opportunity to simultaneously educate and celebrate our community. We decided to run this campaign during National Library Week to take advantage of the spirit of celebration sweeping libraries nationwide.

What kind of research did you need to do before you got started?
The first genesis of the idea came about many years ago when our current library director, Sara Collins, was at a conference and heard another librarian talking about using balloons to celebrate the library. Then this year, I was thinking of ways we could communicate the value of the services we provide more effectively to patrons. My idea was to put large price tags on different items patrons frequently use identifying who had provided the funds to make those services available. In conversation with the Friends of the Library, the decision was made to combine those ideas and mark items around the library with different-colored balloons, with each color representing a different source of funding.

What materials were used? Did you have a budget?
We used balloons and paper to post flyers about it and that’s it! The balloons were bought for us by the Friends of the Library. Overall, it was pretty inexpensive, although the balloons began to sink throughout the week and it would have been more expensive to get new ones. But the great thing about this project is that it’s adjustable and affordable – you can do as many balloons as your budget allows, or go with paper price tags for an even more thrifty option.

How did you promote the campaign to your community? Were there posters or flyers in the library? How about social media?
We promoted the campaign in several ways. We promoted it in newspapers as part of our weekly press release, put it on the signs outside, had flyers around the library, and educated the staff to be able to talk about what the balloons represented and where the funds had come from. I reached out to ALA and we promoted it on our Facebook page as well – the goal was to get the whole community celebrating! In some ways, we didn’t have to do a lot of promoting – those balloons brought attention to themselves!

How was the campaign received by the community?
The campaign was received very enthusiastically! The balloons created an instant positive impact on the moods of everyone who came in. They were an immediate connection point to the librarians; every day someone would come in and say, “What’s the occasion?” and I would get to say, “We’re having a party for the library to celebrate all the people and groups that have made our services possible!” Then we could naturally lead into explaining what the balloons meant and how the services had been paid for and the end result felt like we were positively educating the community on some of the more opaque aspects of the inner library workings. It really created a library-wide attitude of gratitude – us to the community, the community to us.

How do you see the campaign evolving over time?
I think it would be incredibly fun to do the campaign again, to take the goodwill the balloons built and really drill down into some more specific services that have had far-reaching effects. For example, we are able to provide teen services due to a state-administered IMLS grant. The grant paid for teen books, teen furniture, and helped create a teen librarian professional position. I would love to spend a day specifically highlighting that asset, as well as other tangible high-impact services on other days. I also would love to extend the education into advocacy. For example, it would be amazing to have the balloons up as well as a workstation for writing postcards to legislators or to pass out volunteer forms, or forms for the Friends of the Library, or information about donating to the library. The balloons highlight how our library thrives thanks to monetary support, but there is so much patrons can do on individual levels to support the library. Next year, it would be exciting to empower our library-loving patrons to be their own best advocates.

You can see more photos of the project on the Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library’s Facebook page.

How has your library turned federal politics into local advocacy work? Do you have a campaign planned during the August recess, when Members of Congress will be back in their states and districts? Share your ideas in the comments and let us know how you plan to get involved.

About Lisa Lindle

Lisa Lindle is the Grassroots Communications Specialist for the American Library Association. She coordinates National Library Legislative Day and manages the ALA Washington Office’s social media communications capabilities.

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