1980 Campaign for Library Expansion
Pull for the Library!
After expecting a library expansion millage referendum to be on the ballot “any time now” since 1976, the measure was finally put before voters in the Orange County, Florida, district served by the Orlando Public Library on September 9, 1980. Voters were asked to approve two library proposals, one to change the legal status of the library from a city operation to a district responsibility, and the second to tack on an additional library millage to property taxes to expand the central library. Without approval of both questions, the library would gain nothing. September 9 was a primary election with a very long ballot, so there was a real possibility that citizens would not even know there was a library question on the ballot, much less understand the issues.
As part of a semi-annual survey of library users, we added to the regular barometers of service evaluation two questions related to the Referendum: Do you support expansion of the Main Library? Are you a registered voter? Results varied very little between the Main Library and the branches (which was encouraging): 70 to 80% of registered voters who responded system-wide said they favored expansion; about 5% said no, and the rest were undecided. This was before any media campaigns and before any explanation of costs.
The Friends of the Library established a Political Action Committee (PAC) and donated $26,000 to its campaign. Most of that money was raised through three or four years of semi-annual book sales. Library director Glenn Miller chaired the PAC; two or three library staff did most of the work of coordinating efforts of Friends and supporters. The PAC chose and paid an ad agency to produce and place the campaign slogan, almost all of the printed materials, radio and TV spots and billboards.
The main role of volunteers was to distribute booklets, bumper stickers and information to neighbors and groups they belonged to. Most of the volunteers were recruited over several evenings of Friends phoning Friends from a bank of phones provided at a Friends board member’s stockbroker’s office. Library staff (on non-library time) also took several thousand booklets door-to-door in high voter-turnout precincts. Friends board members with good media contacts also arranged helpful interviews.
Printed Materials and Distribution
An 8-page booklet provided to residents explaining the issues in cold facts was praised for its low-key, business-like tone. Not available until three weeks before the vote, 50,000 were distributed at most of the civic club talks, mailed to Friends members and likely supporters (almost 1,000) who had taken a tour of the library in the last 18 months, handed out door-to-door, stuffed in each stack of books checked out at any branch. Door-to-door distribution focused on the neighborhoods surrounding branch libraries (on the assumption they would be favorably pre-disposed to libraries) and precincts with a record of high voter registration and turn-out.
One-page flyers, cheaper to produce and giving only an enthusiastic outline of the key facts, were provided to other community organizations to enclose in their mailings. Day cares and PTAs that had taken advantage of our parenting workshops and children’s services were also good about distributing promotion.
Two-inch label stickers were easy to slap on receptive folks at talks and political functions. Branch staff also offered one to each library user. Although temporary, they are much cheaper than long-lasting buttons, and just as effective.
Ten thousand bumper stickers were available at branch libraries and the Main Library, as well as at speeches. Precinct walkers carried a small supply to give one to residents who seemed very receptive. We were careful to pay a little extra to get high-quality vinyl stickers that are easily removed after the election, and that proved to be a selling point.
TV spots included one very straight-forward, thirty-second explanation of the two questions, using one man’s voice and key words appearing at the appropriate time on the screen. There were three ten-second spots (using cartoons from the 8-page booklet that were drawn by the popular cartoonist for the local newspaper) that illustrated over-crowding and simply reminded folks to watch for the library questions on the ballot.
Radio spots included three thirty-second versions, two that were skits of librarian and library user discussing over-crowding and a third that gave straight-forward explanation of the issues. All of the commercial broadcast time was paid.
Four billboards were in good locations on major highways in the five weeks before the vote. Early in the preceding month, before the booklet, bumper sticker, broadcast spots were out, they probably helped library supporters feel that there was a campaign in the making.
Obviously, we spoke to as many civic clubs as would give us give minutes or a half-hour. Library staff made arrangements by writing club presidents and then calling to reinforce the offer; often it took several calls to track down the right person who could schedule a talk. Most of the one-hundred speeches in that last month were given by the library director. We used no volunteer speakers because we wanted our spokesperson to be fully informed. Talks allowed plenty of time for questions; didn’t use slides. Summer season made it hard or impossible to approach many support groups the library would normally call on for support (PTAs, clubs that don’t meet during the summer, etc.).
Because our September 9 ballot was in the thick of a political season, we made a special effort to make sure candidates for all races — from city commissioner through the local state offices — had a chance to be well-informed on the library questions. We didn’t want them to popularize erroneous perspectives if they got questions on library issues wh ile they were campaigning. We did our best to get candidates to take our 90-minuted V.I.P. tour of the library which emphasizes services but includes information on our space squeeze. As it turned out, the library tax proposal did not become a controversial issue, so candidates didn’t seem to get any questions on it. Most candidates were positive or neutral.
Several pages of fact sheets gave additional background to the media. We got almost no public information support from the main newspaper, which surprisingly took no position pro or con. Several broadcasters and weekly newspapers gave good endorsements, as did the Chamber of Commerce. Unions, the Downtown Development Board, and other community organizations proved to be another way to spread the word. Finding those opportunities took many phone calls and presentations.
Out of 156,447 registered voters in the district, 72,286 actually voted in this primary, but not all of them spoke on the library questions. More than 60% of 56,443 voters approved the question of consolidating the library service district, and more than 58% of 55,299 voters approved the library expansion millage. In the final analysis, the two library questions did not become a matter of controversy or even much public interest, in spite of the fact they involved tax questions. Voter turn-out, because of the long ballot and high interest in some of the races, was considered good for a primary election in Orange County, but not as high as the November turn-out in the presidential election of almost twice as many voters.
We mailed supporters and members of the Friends the simple but attractive Thank You Card, adding hand-written notes from the library director to notable workers and supporters.
Peruse all the print materials used in the “Pull for the Library” campaign.