Monday, April 14, 2008

PLA: From Awareness to Funding - a study of library support in the U.S.

Listen, this is important...

The best thing Bill Gates ever did was to marry Melinda. Now we've got this rich couple with a conscience and progressive ideas. They help libraries a lot. Thus we have, among other things, the OCLC Gates-funded marketing/advocacy study. The grant is to study "development of a potential national marketing campaign to increase awareness of the value of libraries, and the need for support for libraries at local, state and national levels." On the surface, this sounds remarkably similar to the Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries, which I'm proud to support. But given the scope and ambitions of the study, I think the OCLC effort goes deeper and has some messages that deserve a lot of attention, that may call us to change how we do some things.

OCLC will publish the study next month. But there was a preview at the PLA conference in a program:
From Awareness to Funding
Join Cathy De Rosa, OCLC Global Vice President of Marketing, for a presentation of OCLC’s advocacy research program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Learn who you should talk to in your community and what messages can help your own advocacy and marketing efforts.
In an environment where libraries continue to face major cuts and even closing, the study is a follow-up to 2005's Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. I took pages of notes at the program, but we only scratched the surface -- it will be necessary to read the full report.

Selected highlights:
  • public impressions of libraries are positive but inaccurate -- there is a lot that people don't know
  • library referenda are increasingly failing to get on ballots, or where they do the success rate is dropping
  • without action, critical funding for public libraries will erode
  • sufficient latent support exists in local communities -- 80% of funding is local, but there is high competition
  • it is key to position the library as a vital part of the community infrastructure and a key to transforming lives
  • most people will claim to support the library, but fewer are truly committed to doing so
  • elected officials believe that they support the library more than their constituents do
  • there is no correlation between those who visit the library and those willing to fund it
  • the desire to fund is related to belief in the library as a self-actualization tool
  • perceptions of the librarian are highly related to support -- valuing a passionate librarian is very important -- qualities include:
    • advocates for the library
    • is knowledgeable
    • has a commitment to life-long learning
    • is passionate about making the library relevant
  • everybody consistently lies in surveys
  • there is a spectrum of perception and value, and we should make efforts to move the perception of the library from information toward transformation -- if we're perceived as being for information, we lose to Google
There was a lot more about the segmentation of our market, identifying super supporters, probable supporters, those with barriers to support, and nonvoters. A key will be to identify those segments of the probable supporters who can make the difference for us, and tailor our messages to them.

We need to:
  • create a brand selling library support, not selling library use
  • craft our our brand to reflect the beliefs of our most avid supporters
  • re-frame the library when we lay out the case for support
  • change perceptions to reflect:
    • transformation NOT information
    • infrastructure NOT institution
    • necessity NOT nice to have
    • the future NOT the past
    • "return on investment" NOT altruism
This will turn into a national campaign, requiring scale and endurance. But local efforts will be critical: we need to be passionate, know our base and motivate our base.

I don't know that we want to jump right on the bandwagon -- letting go of the idea that we're about information will go hard with some. But we'd better think about it and discuss -- it seems that if we keep on doing things the way we have, support will continue to erode. Our library may be better off than many, but it's an ongoing struggle to maintain support.


jdscott50 said...

This was mentioned briefly at a training in January I attended. Do you know when this report will come out? Any other details?

All I have heard so far is that this will be really big. I agree, we shouldn't jump into things, but if we are talking about referendums and such, it will be something that needs to be addressed.

Terry Dawson said...

They only said that it would be released in May. There is apparently a section on "Advocacy" on the OCLC website where you can sign up to be notified when the study is released.

Alice said...

Actually Jeff and Terry, the report is due out in June. We're aiming to have copies of the report ready to order at ALA. Cathy De Rosa will give a session about the research findings at ALA, too. I believe it will be on Monday morning from 8 to 10:30 am.

Terry Dawson said...

Thanks, Alice, for the clarification. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the full report!

Anonymous said...

I've been watching for the report since May 1st as well -the program at PLA was a highlight for me. Your notes are better than mine. I'm glad to find them and will watch for the report in June. karen

Terry Dawson said...

Consultant Joan Frye Williams and OCLC VP George Needham have a good discussion of this presentation in one of their podcasts discussing the PLA conference.