When I began serving as Director of the J. Lewis Crozer Library five years ago, I quickly learned that unless the library secured a steady funding stream, it would eventually cease to exist. The library had traditional sources of funding through the local contributions, state support and fundraising efforts; however, the main source for funding library operations came from a rapidly dwindling endowment.
Efforts were made to increase funding by hiring a part-time grant writer; the Board's Finance Committee made an effort to decrease spending by scrutinizing vendor contracts and making cost saving changes; and I also worked with the staff to reduce the library's expenditures. All of these measures worked, but not enough to ward off the inevitable. We needed a dedicated library tax, and voters in the city of Chester (PA) agreed.
As the library's director, my primary goal is to ensure the residents of my library's community find value in their public library. I was fortunate to walk into a position where staff had a willingness to serve the patrons. That was a huge benefit. The ultimate goal is to provide a good experience for those individuals who use the library. I kept my staff informed of the library's financial challenges and reminded them of how their decorum could make the difference in future funding. It really mattered. Everyone entering the library must be treated with courtesy and respect. By extension, when it came time to speak about the need for additional funding, most patrons had a positive view of their library experiences.
A class at Widener University conducted surveys for us to discover how the community viewed the library. The surveys, which were distributed at the library and other locations across the city, gave us a lot of insight!
Based on the information collected, we made the following improvements:
- Removed limits on the amount of library items that could be borrowed at one time
- Increased the number and variety of programs offered
- Doubled the number of patron computers
- Increased visibility through participation in community events and outreach activities for all population segments
- Updated the library's appearance by purchasing patron furniture, painting the walls and obtaining new carpeting
- Partnered with social service agencies and educational institutions to leverage community resources
- Documented and reported on the library's growth and improvements
Leading Up to the Referendum
In the spring of 2010, Pennsylvania Senator Dominic Pileggi, a former Board member and Board president, suggested that the only viable option for the library to continue to function at its current level was through a dedicated library tax. In very quick succession, we held meetings with local politicians to inform them of the library's financial situation and ask for their support, and the Mayor's Chief of Staff gave assistance to determine the millage necessary to stabilize the library's finances.
David Belanger, director of the Delaware County Library System, provided his support by attending meetings with local politicians and lending his expertise on library funding and referenda. The Board enlisted the expertise of a local attorney who provided pro bono services. He provided us with valuable information on how to get a referendum on the ballot and how to get the message out to residents to support the library through the referendum.
Social media played a large role in getting information out to the community. A local news blogger and avid Crozer Library patron also reported on the need for library funding. In addition, he created a video of the Board's president asking the community to vote in favor of the referendum. The video was placed on the news site, YouTube and sent out through Facebook. Facebook was also a great method of communication to enlist volunteers and inform our social media followers of the need to vote for a dedicated library tax.
A Promising Future
On Primary Election Day of 2011, the library board members positioned themselves at high volume polling places to distribute informational flyers and urge residents to support the library. All of the hard work paid off! Over 67% of those who voted were in favor of the referendum. In 2012, the library began receiving the tax monies from the millage. Crozer Library's funding has stabilized and the residents of Chester will benefit from the services of their public library for the foreseeable future.