March 2009 Articles
Janet Hollingsworth, Director
Herrick Memorial Library
When I was asked by the State Library newsletter committee to write about how my library (Herrick Memorial Library) ran its first ever levy campaign I thought to myself “I can do that.” Then, five minutes later my mind went into this hazy place… “How did it [levy] happen?” Luckily, I kept a file of the entire campaign.
First, let me provide some background. The Herrick Memorial Library is a township public library with a defined service area of the Wellington School District and Huntington Township located in another school district. Our service population is approximately 9,270 as defined by the 2000 Census. The library is 105 years old and until 2008 was 92% funded by the shrinking LLGSF. Its funding in 2000 was $493,000 and by 2007 it was reduced to $391,000. Of course like all public libraries, we increased our services; some mandated by the State and others because of public need, and we increased our programming with money and staff.
The decision to place a levy and get Township and County Auditor’s certification was the easy part of the campaign. Marketing the levy to our public took some planning and a lot of work. I made the decision to keep this campaign as low-key and cost-effective as possible. My fiscal officer wrote letters to all of our local vendors and community leaders requesting donations to fund the levy. Many of our vendors were generous with funds and others were able to provide valuable services such as the local weekly newspaper providing us with a one-time free insertion of levy fliers and another vendor was able to print our signs and charge us only for materials. Respected community leaders wrote letters to the editor about the importance of the library to the community and I spoke at every township meeting explaining the need and the ballot wording. Levy information handouts were placed in the library on our public sharing table for anyone to take.
The basis of the marketing campaign was to show the public their return on investment (ROI). We put it in simple terms showing the cost of the levy in value of the materials they used or checked out from the library. We based it on the norm of a home valued at $100,000 and the ROI being $23.64, less than the cost of a hardbound book, for homes valued at $200,000 the cost would be $47.28; and on the other end of the spectrum, for homes valued at $80,000 the cost would be $17.73. If each home owner checked out one hardbound book, be it a best seller, fiction, nonfiction or children’s book, instead of purchasing the book at a bookstore or online, they would save themselves the amount to cover the cost of the levy for one year. If each homeowner checked out ten of our videos/DVDs instead of renting them, they would save themselves the cost of the levy for one year. We also explained it to parents with children who were required to do reports that the use of materials (books, internet, and staff assistance) for one report would cover the cost of the levy for two years depending on the value of their home.
Needless to say, the levy passed 58% at a cost of less than $3500.00. I can’t say if this strategy will work for everyone, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.