Education and Advocacy Campaigns

Regardless of its organizational structure, any library seeking a public vote on any issue, including its budget, should conduct an educational and/or advocacy campaign before the vote. This will ensure that the public has a full understanding of the rationale behind the proposition(s) and the reasons for supporting it. The differences between an educational campaign and an advocacy campaign are summarized below. A library's timeline for a public referendum should allow sufficient time to organize and conduct appropriate educational and advocacy campaigns.

Preparation is Key

The process of running a campaign to secure a positive vote on a public library budget referendum should begin well in advance of the vote and should be well thought out and organized. The campaign should involve both an educational and an advocacy component. Information on these campaigns can be found below. There are several sources that identify tips for running successful library referendum campaigns including the Public Library Vote Toolbox, created by the Mid-Hudson Library System and the Pioneer Library System’s Education and Advocacy Tutorial. Practical information can also be found by contacting other libraries that have run successful campaigns.

Educational Campaigns

The purpose of an educational campaign is to ensure that the public understands the facts involved in a referendum. The campaign might include the following:

  • speaking engagements
  • newsletter articles
  • printing and distribution of flyers, ads, and other information

Materials should highlight the library's budget, the amount being requested, the potential cost per average homeowner or family if the vote passes, and what the library will do with the additional funding. Educational campaigns should not encourage people to vote one way or the other on a proposition, but simply provide them with the facts necessary to make an informed decision. A library can use public tax money on an educational campaign. For good ideas on educational campaigns, talk to contacts in other public libraries and school districts. One tool to consider before launching an organized educational campaign is a “Q&A” document that anticipates difficult questions that may be posed during the campaign.   The library board or the committee responsible for overseeing the educational campaign should brainstorm questions that may be posed during the campaign and develop well thought out responses.  The process of developing difficult questions will help identify any negative reaction that the community may have toward the library proposition and developing responses will prepare the library board and campaign committee to respond in a logical manner.  Since many of the questions will be similar to those faced by other libraries, the library board or campaign committee should review “Q&A” documents prepared by other libraries.

Advocacy Campaigns

The purpose of an advocacy campaign is to influence voters to either vote in favor of or in opposition to a ballot proposition. A library cannot use public tax money on an advocacy campaign. It is best if a separate group using private funding conducts the advocacy effort. A library's existing Friends group may take on this responsibility. However, in some cases, an ad-hoc citizens group may conduct advocacy efforts. That group might include people in the community who are passionate about the library and are willing to donate funds and their time to influence the outcome of the vote. Advocacy campaigns might make use of the following:

  • flyers
  • newspaper ads
  • letters to the editor
  • phone calls to prospective voters
  • speaking engagements
  • other measures to urge people to vote in favor of a ballot proposition

Understanding Roles and Responsibilities

In every campaign, it is important for everyone to have a clear understanding of responsibilities and roles. Here is a typical list of participants and potential roles for a library educational and advocacy campaign:

Library Board

Retains ultimate responsibility for the overall effort. Hires consultants, legal counsel, and other expertise as necessary and appoints a steering committee.

Steering Committee

Should include members of the library board, the library director, and influential people within the community who are supportive of the library. Works closely with consultants hired by the board of trustees and provides direction to the educational and advocacy campaigns.

Library Director

Serves as a member of the steering committee and works closely with consultants to ensure that required information from the library is available. Assists in public presentations, development of educational materials, and other activities as needed.

Library Advocacy Group

May be the library's Friends group or a separately organized ad-hoc group consisting of dedicated volunteers who will carry out activities associated with the advocacy campaign. Carries out activities such as identifying library supporters throughout the proposed library service area and contacting them individually to request their positive vote on election day; calling people a day or two prior to the election to remind them to vote; driving people to and from the polling place on the day of the vote; identifying potential opposition to the library vote and taking steps approved by the steering committee to counter the opposition.

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Last Updated: July 20, 2009 -- asm [created January 27, 2005]; for questions or comments, contact us