Convincing voters to support your initiative starts with first convincing them of the value of the library and then convincing them of the value of the renovation project itself. Here at Boylston (MA) Public Library, we put a lot of effort into developing support for our update projects. With the right strategies, you can garner backing from your community as well. Here’s how to get started in creating a strong base of support for both large and small renovations.
1. Develop a Clear, Concise Plan that Everyone Understands
It may sound like common sense, but it’s crucial to develop a master plan detailing needed renovations and how they will be carried out. Staff members need to understand enough of the details to be able to communicate them to stakeholders.
Some tips for developing your plan:
- Make sure your master plan has specific objectives about what problems will be addressed.
- Have good cost estimates and make them available to the public.
- Know how your project will benefit the community and develop talking points.
- Have a brochure or card with the basic information that can be handed out during outreach events and in-house programs.
2. Give Your Space a Low-budget Makeover
Fire up people’s imaginations about the library’s potential with a few small, low-cost or no-cost projects. An added benefit is that by fixing what you can, you’ll make the things you can’t fix stand out even more.
Easy adjustments include the following:
- Declutter the library. Remove unused or excess furniture, old equipment and anything that looks like it came from a previous decade. Make sure your collections are well weeded. Remove or replace torn or aged artwork, posters and signage.
- Give the space a thorough cleaning. Make sure you include overlooked spaces, such as windows, ceilings, fireplaces and baseboards.
- Tackle small projects that have a big visual impact. Remove old carpeting, repaint a room or fix cracked plaster. Reach out to volunteers for assistance or seek funding from your Friends of the Library group.
- Replace broken or old furniture. Swap out bulky furniture for modular units that add versatility or functionality to a space. Replace old chairs with newer, more comfortable ones.
- Introduce a new collection. Establish a new collection based on something your community has been asking for.
Boylston Public Library did a low-budget makeover of one of our rooms by replacing a large Formica®-topped table with modular tables. We also removed the old curtains and carpet and gave the walls a fresh coat of paint. Finally, we weeded the collection in order to declutter the shelves.
3. Engage with the Community — Beyond Your Current Patrons
No funding request will pass a ballot if only your frequent library users understand the need for it. Engage new groups within the community, both inside and outside of the library. That way, when your request goes to ballot, you can be sure that everyone is aware of your request and the need for it.
Here are some successful ways to reach new audiences:
- Host speakers on popular topics. Ask your Friends of the Library group for a temporary increase in funding in order to boost the number of events and the quality of your speakers.
- Have a presence at community events. These include committee meetings, parades, 5k races, sporting events, etc. Ask to speak at a local business guild meeting, at a senior breakfast and at other group meetings.
- Invite local groups to meet in your library. Offer space for local officials to host office hours.
- Find hosts for new community groups. Do you know a local expert who could host a photography club or genealogy group?
- Reach out to new groups to host events in your library. Are there local groups who don’t currently use the library who might be interested in holding events there, such as the Girl Scouts or Habitat for Humanity?
- Provide space for local candidates to have a debate.
Embrace the community by giving them the opportunity to share your successes and commiserate with your problems. Any increases in statistics or particularly well-attended programs should be interspersed with details on building problems and information about the renovation project.
Some suggestions for achieving maximum community awareness:
- Take pictures of everything: programs, collections, maintenance issues, new purchases and outreach efforts. Share them everywhere — with news outlets, on your social media pages, in the library itself and any other place you can imagine.
- Issue a weekly press release. Let media outlets know that there is always something happening at the library. Tell them about upcoming programs, past successes and new services, or thank the community for their patience while the library dealt with a maintenance issue.
- Make better use of your newsletter by including testimonials, statistics, success stories, short videos, and photos.
- Send timely direct mailings to your community. Advertise a special event, send out renovation information or do a new patron membership drive.
The image above is an example of a postcard that we sent to every Boylston residence. It provides details about a request for a small amount of money to pay for architectural plans for our renovation. We also included our talking points for the larger renovation project. We sent about 2,200 postcards out at a cost of roughly $0.40 per card.
Take a look at more ways that we communicate what’s happening at our library:
Programs (we take photos of everything!)
5. Use a Small Ask to Test the Waters
If a large, expensive renovation is your plan, it may be wise to structure your plan in phases. Start with something small but impactful that will build trust with the community and also serve as a marketing tool for the larger overall plan. Funding projects in phases reduces the burden on the taxpayers and therefore increases the likelihood of a successful vote.
Some things to consider when choosing a first-phase project:
- Look for something that has a visual impact as well as a functional one. Pair an exterior project with a maintenance issue so that people can easily see the results of the project.
- Find a part of the project that your community is likely to strongly support. Marketing a funding request is easier when there is a clear demonstrated need for the improvements.
- Be sensitive to the overall plan by choosing something that won’t have to be redone in a subsequent phase. No one wants to pay for something twice, so make sure your project is discreet and standalone.
- Consider projects that are likely to draw financial support from private donors, corporate sponsors or grant initiatives. Your project will become more appetizing if a portion of the cost can be offset with other monies.
Our Phase I included a redo of the front entrance, including the wheelchair-accessible ramp, front door and the stairs. This project was not only highly visible, but addressed ADA and safety concerns with the front entrance. The design of the project was respectful to the building’s original architecture, which appealed to those interested in preserving the historical accuracy of the building.
All these efforts paid off for us, as we were able to secure funding for our renovation project at our 2015 town meeting. The vote was unanimous. Renovations began in the spring of 2016 and are now winding down. We are moving back into the building and anticipate reopening in the early summer. After nearly 20 years of trying unsuccessfully to renovate the library, we were thrilled with this result and cannot wait to share our new space with our community.
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- 5 Tips for Getting Your Library Renovation Projects Funded - June 23, 2017