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Mid-York Library System
Mid-York Library System is a consortium of 43 autonomous public libraries in upstate New York, serving a mostly rural population of 369,337 over 3,280 square miles. It is governed by a sixteen member Board of Trustees. The largest cities are Rome and Utica, with populations of 34,950 and 60,651 respectively. The 2004 total annual budget was $2,415,804. There are 235, 879 registered borrowers who can use any of the 43 libraries with one borrower card. The Central Library is Utica Public Library.
Mid-York provides services to its member libraries including automation and telecommunications, interlibrary loan, delivery, reference, acquisitions, and materials processing. The System also provides professional consulting on library services and issues, including trustee training, web page management, collection development, computer maintenance, as well as circulation and database training.
The Mid-York Library System and its 43 member libraries collaborated to plan and implement the Regional Read, which was held in September and October 2004. The first project of its kind in upstate New York, the planners utilized print, web, outdoor, and radio advertising. The Regional Read encouraged people to read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and to participate in programs. Networking with high schools and colleges, the project also promoted regionalism, the joy of reading, citizen participation in government, and the role of libraries in the community. Program attendance exceeded 7,000, businesses contributed in-kind services, individuals and organizations joined the "451 Club," and colleges and high schools served as remote sites for a live videoconference with the author. The project was planned over a two-year period.
In 2002, a group of member library directors approached Mid-York and asked to participate in a Community Read project on a regional level. This group became the initial selection and programming committee. Mid-York staff was excited to facilitate the project. This relates to two goals of the Mid-York Library System Plan of Service. These are:
- To provide services and coordinate activities which allow libraries to cooperate and share their resources easily and efficiently and
- To provide expertise, services, and training that complement and extend the resources of the individual library.
Mid-York was the leader in facilitating the event and involving the member libraries in the planning and implementation, particularly in providing publicity. The publicity challenges for this event were:
- Saturating a large geographic area with many small media markets
- Encouraging a large portion of the population to read the selection
Choosing the Book
The selection committee read and reviewed many books and settled on the choice after one year. The criteria for the book were as follows: short, accessible in different formats, could be enjoyed by high school and college students as well as adults, had a living author, and offered many programming possibilities. The consensus was that Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was the one that met the most criteria. A personal appearance would cost $30,000, but there was the option of arranging a videoconference for $15,000.
The goals of the project evolved.
- To promote literacy and the love of reading
- To seek to improve citizen participation in government
- To promote regionalism
- To showcase the role of libraries in a democracy
As the project continued, more committees were needed. The book selection committee turned into the programming committee, which planned a workshop for member library staff on planning and implementing the Regional Read. Other committees were publicity, fundraising, college, high school, and videoconference.
We wanted the design of all the promotional materials to be similar, so that people would recognize the "branding." We chose red, black, and white for all the graphics and promoted the themes of "hot" and "spicy" to our sponsors.
With the goal of saturating the three counties with information, the publicity committee established a budget and a plan. The cost for Mr. Bradbury to do a live videoconference was $15,000 and the rest of the budget came in between $85,000 and $100,000. We would only be able to do as much as we could with the money we raised. It was a risk.
Mid-York committed to paying the cost of Mr. Bradbury's appearance, but the rest of the money had to be raised or we needed to find businesses willing to provide in-kind services. Mid-York staff added Regional Read jobs to their routine, including web page writing, fund raising acknowledgments, press releases, and public speaking. A fundraising chair was appointed for each county.
The Fundraising and Publicity committees identified community partners throughout the region. Here are some examples:
- Canterbury Press (donated 10,000 firefighter bookmarks)
- Cazenovia Fire Department (posed for the photo on the bookmark)
- Utica Rotary Club donated money for 10,000 buttons
- Rome Rotary donated money for books for high school students
- Scalzo, Zogby, and Wittig insurance company donated $750
- New York State Newspaper Publishers Association ($5,000 toward the videoconference)
- Colleges donated site connection charges for the videoconference
- BOCES donated money for the bridge, allowing sites to connect for the videoconference
- Park Outdoor Advertising donated 10 free billboards out of a total of 30
- Bresler Printing printed the resource guides at a minimal cost
- Individuals donated varying amounts. Some organizations collected $45.10 from their members so that they could be "451 Club members."
- Carpenter and Damsky Advertising donated a radio spot
Publicity packets went to potential sponsors as well as to television, radio, and print media to alert them of the upcoming project as well as to offer opportunities for partnerships, in-kind sponsors, and individual giving. Mid-York established a "451 Club" for those individuals and organizations who donated at least $451.00 to the project. As soon as they donated, their names were added to the web page list of sponsors, with a link to their business, where appropriate. One local newspaper did an editorial and article in May to generate interest in the upcoming Regional Read.
In order for the project to be a success, the Mid-York libraries wanted ideas for programs and background information about the book. In March 2004, the program committee held a training workshop at Mid-York to introduce the Regional Read to representatives from member libraries. Members of the committee took responsibility for presenting various aspects of implementing it. The workshop content included planning programs with grant money, having enough copies available, display ideas, novelty items, information about Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451, and web site content. The workshop concluded with a book discussion and refreshments. The book discussion brought out the themes around which programs could be planned.
One of our most powerful tools for promotion was our web site. (www.midyork.org) Driving people to the web page via a link to Regional Read information would also encourage them to explore the content of the entire site. Developed by a Mid-York staff member, this web page became active in March and was updated almost daily so that regular visitors as well as new users would be kept informed. We added sponsors to the web page in the order that they committed resources. Documents, including publicity graphics, were available in .pdf and Word formats to make access easy for everyone. We also bought and distributed stickers to libraries to use on promotional fliers as well as on outgoing mail.
The high school committee, chaired by a retired high school English teacher, sent letters to the area high schools in the spring to alert them of the upcoming fall project. This was designed to enable the high schools and colleges to plan for the fall curriculum. She also contacted and arranged to teach a class on Fahrenheit 451 to senior citizens at a local college.
The college committee, chaired by a member librarian, sent letters to the college Presidents and the English Department chairs of the seven regional colleges to also allow them time to plan to include this project in the fall curriculum. These colleges included Colgate, Hamilton, and local community colleges.
Planning the live videoconference evolved into a huge project on its own. The Mid-York reference librarian coordinated this part of the project. Each of 14 sites had to plan for ISDN technology to broadcast the presentation. In addition to a technical person, we asked each site to provide a host and a site facilitator. Each site dialed into a bridge, which allowed the signal to be rebroadcast to multiple sites.
Through our partnerships, we were able to procure and distribute 10,000 bookmarks, buttons, and resource booklets at no cost to libraries. Other promotional materials included weekly press releases to all of the print and electronic media, participation in a local craft fair, and speaking to local service organizations. A local candy business developed Regional Read Spicy Peanut Brittle. Mid-York supplied a CD of graphics for each library and print media outlet to use for their stories and fliers. County executives from all three counties made themselves available for "photo ops" presenting proclamations to the Director of Mid-York. Libraries, high schools, and colleges planned 85 events. One of the most impressive was a "literature fair" at a high school, where the students constructed over 50 exhibits all having to do with Fahrenheit 451. The Calendar of Events on the web site enabled anyone to check daily for programs. The billboard advertising schedule was scattered so that the campaign lasted during all of September and October.
Mr. Bradbury offered two exclusive interviews to two local newspapers before the videoconference, which heightened enthusiasm for that event. Through the use of distance learning technology, our Director was able to welcome Mr. Bradbury to 14 sites in upstate New York and introduce him to people at 14 different sites. Mr. Bradbury addressed the participants directly and answered questions submitted by community members.
The outcome of the Regional Read exceeded everyone's expectations. All of the 283 evaluations were positive, with most asking when will be the next Regional Read. Typical quotes were:
"I enjoyed the variety of ways that it was promoted."
"I loved it and hope you do it again soon!"
"I am delighted by the attendance at the video conference and the library's book discussion group of young and older people."
"Please, please, please do another."
Evaluation questions: (283 total responses returned)
- Where did you hear about the Regional Read? Most respondents (101) heard about the project at the library, followed by the newspaper (52)
- Why did you participate? Most people answered that it "sounded interesting."
- Where did you obtain the book? The library (95), the bookstore (65), and at school (52) were the top responses.
- How did you participate? Reading the book (230) and attending the videoconference (232) were the top two.
- 126 people thought that the booklets were helpful. "The biographical information and historic sections were useful. I liked the tie-ins with similar books for children and teens." Also, "I was born in 1962 and this booklet explained a lot of history to me."
To reiterate, the publicity challenges for this type of event were:
- Fundraising: Mid-York has never done any fundraising before. It was worth the risk because we ended up raising over $15,000.
- Saturating a large geographic area with many small media markets: We discovered the impact of billboards. Our Director met someone on the golf course who pulled up beside her and wanted to discuss the book right then and there!
- Encouraging a large portion of the population to read the selection: Working with the high schools and colleges encouraged a maximum number of participants.
(click on each image to enlarge)
Billboard advertising the Regional Read
Display at the Cazenovia Public Library
Web site with details of live teleconference with author Ray Bradbury
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