Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2008 election results and the library

Now to report the results of the library's 2008 mill levy campaign: We lost.

As of today's still unofficial tally, we got 55,394 yes votes (47% of the total cast) and 62,442 no votes (53%). So we lost by over 7,000 votes. The school district's issue went down by about the same percentages.

I find myself surprisingly light-hearted about it. I truly don't think this reveals some secret disgruntlement with either institution. I think it's clear that our community was worried about the economy, and is hunkering down.

It's also clear that when you lose by 7,000 votes, there isn't much you could have done that would have won. The community has spoken.

But I have two other thoughts.

First, here's a bit of very good news. I have witnessed the birth of several new civic leaders, most of them folks who had never participated in the political process much before, but revealed themselves to be tireless organizers, and passionate and articulate speakers on our behalf. It was more than a privilege to work with them; it was a revelation.

Second, it's worth noting that in a few communities in Colorado, despite the economy, some public sector funding measures did pass. So it's not just the economy at work here. It is also the culture of Douglas County. And in brief, this remains one of the anti-tax centers of the state.

So I've got some choices: accept it, find another community, or stay and work to change this one. My son's in high school, so that's at least three more years. Why not have some fun?

I've written before about OCLC's "From Awareness to Funding" report; it nailed a lot of things. My library is one of the most heavily used in the nation. We know how to grow that. But we have never -- except around this past couple of years of elections -- focused on demonstrating our value.

Meanwhile, some of the so-called "conservative" voices in our county hammer away on a series of messages: taxes are by definition bad, government is by definition incompetent and not to be trusted, free market capitalism can do no wrong, etc..

Now that the election is over, I find myself feeling liberated. I want to tackle these attitudes, these premises, head on. Because I believe that they are (a) false and (b) truly destructive to our communities.

Obama's election represents a clear repudiation of the policies, foreign and domestic, that led us into so many failures. What most folks haven't yet worked out is that those policies were based on precisely the premises that they still consider axiomatic: e.g. "tax burden." I heard Bob Schaefer (who lost to Udall) say on the radio, "Republicans aren't wrong about these issues." But oh yes they are. The evidence is all around us.

Ideas are powerful. They have consequences. And if the consequences suck, then you need new ideas. You need to change your mind.

So my library needs to revamp its publicity and marketing messages to strengthen our community's understanding of just what we contribute. We need to emphasize not just use, but value -- and all year long, not just when we're going to the voters for more money.

We need to raise up advocates for our value within the organization, and recruit and deploy outside advocates.

Finally, we need to call out and clarify the ideas that lead to stronger communities, and directly confront the premises that erode our communities.

I think it sounds like fun.

So we'll launch a new planning process next year to re-imagine our library from the ground up, to live within our means until we have a new and more compelling story to tell our community. That sounds like fun, too. As I told my staff, a yes vote would have meant that we were the number one library in the county in two years. We will still do that; it will just be a little harder and take a little longer.

See also Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

2 comments:

Aspen Walker said...

I think it sounds like fun too. I can't wait to get started.

Jeff Scott said...

Wonderfully said. That's a great attitude to re-build for the next bond measure. Our local high school failed in its override election, so for them it's the same thing. Time to re-build. It's an opportunity. Sounds like you have some great people step up for you as well.