Public Library District Readiness Checklist: Assessing your chances of success
Prior to embarking on a process to transition to a public library district or seeking a public referendum on a library budget, the board of trustees should try to honestly answer the following questions. A positive response to all the questions should be an indicator of that your chances of success are good.
1. Is there 100% commitment from the entire board of trustees?
The process for creating a public library district or for gaining public approval for a library funding proposition requires much effort that cannot entirely be delegated by a board of trustees. Board members must be actively engaged in the process by participating in public forums to explain the rationale for the change, advocating for the new district or funding proposition at every opportunity, and supporting the process through board level decisions. Any ambivalence on the part of even one or two trustees will be recognized by the community and diminish chances for a successful campaign. It is not enough to simply cast a vote to proceed with the process; trustees must be willing to become fully engaged.
2. Is there a compelling case statement for why people should vote "yes" to create the district and/or fund the library?
In order for people to vote in favor of a proposition to create a library district or fund a library, they need to have compelling reasons to do so. Before deciding to proceed with a public budget vote, a library board should list the potential consequences of a negative or a positive outcome of an election. Then library board should then ask whether a strong case can be made to the public based on either one of these outcomes. For example, if a library is facing closure if a funding proposition should fail or if a library can clearly state service and/or facility enhancements to be achieved by a positive outcome it has a strong case to present. Conversely, a library's case may not be as strong if the funding proposition will merely retain the status quo.
3. Is there any data to help determine whether the community is likely to support the proposition?
Though no one can predict with certainty the outcome of any open election, there may be data that provides some solid clues. For example: How has the community rated the library's services in recent public surveys? Have there been any surveys formal or otherwise that directly posed the question "Would you support a proposition to create and fund a public library district in our area?" Are there any controversial issues involving the library that may have an influence on a potential referendum to create and fund a public library district? Are there any organized anti-tax groups or other organizations within the community that may mount an effort against the library proposition? It is important to rely on data and objective analysis in formulating the answers to these questions. A general feeling about something is usually not reliable.
4. Have funds been budgeted to support the effort?
The budget for the creation of a public library district can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances. Potential costs may include: legal counsel; outside consultants, including marketing or public relations expertise; creation, printing and distribution of campaign materials; placement of ads in the local media; and running the local election to create the district. Though libraries can avoid some of these costs, it will require a greater level of work on the part of trustees and volunteers. Since no public funds can be used to advocate for the proposition, it would be prudent to identify nonpublic funds to support that effort. Funding from a library's Friends Group, an endowment or a separate foundation is most often used for this effort.
5. Can local elected and appointed officials be counted on to support or remain neutral regarding the effort?
Well before embarking on the process to create a public library district or to place a funding proposition on the ballot, the library board should meet with municipal and/or school district officials representing affected areas to inform them on the library's plans and to request support for the effort. Though it may be possible to move forward without support from local officials, the process may be more difficult especially if there is likely to be formal opposition from public officials. If that is the case, the library board must develop a plan to counter the opposition.
If the library is currently receiving an appropriation from a municipality or school district, it is important to maintain good relations in the event that the library must depend on the municipality or school district to continue financial support until the library is able to collect taxes resulting from the public budget vote or in the event that the library budget proposition is defeated.
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