Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Check It Out!: The Results

The Final Report is now available.  JCCI's Community Works presents the results of its Check It Out:  Independent Library Funding Inquiry.

Executive Briefing

Full Report

Please visit the brand-new JCCI blog for updates on community efforts stemming from this report and JCCI happenings.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

(Why) Do We Need Libraries?

"If we didn't have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.”
--Meagan Jo Tetrick, age 12

“In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us how to swim." --Author Linton Weeks (Washington Post, Jan. 13)
How necessary to the community is the Library, really?  It depends.  It holds value for individuals—job seekers, toddlers learning brand spanking new words, those suffering with a chronic illness and looking for answers, and students becoming utterly immersed in subject matter and determining a career or lifelong learning path.  It has a different value to the entire community—and the nation.  Poets, entertainers, and politicians have weighed in to say the library has value because it supports discovery, enrichment, and innovation. 

Access to a free public library can be seen as a much deeper community value than simply the collective bargain of sharing resources and enjoying borrowing privileges.  Many argue that the library’s value is at the core of American principles of democracy, equal access, civic engagement, and greatness.

v  "My mother and my father were illiterate immigrants from Russia.  When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject.  They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America.”  --Kirk Douglas

v  “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the Earth as the Free Public Library--this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”  --Andrew Carnegie

v  “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.   The only entrance requirement is interest.” --Lady Bird Johnson

v  “Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations.  Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.” --Toni Morrison

v  If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all. --Senator John F. Kennedy, October 1960

v  "When you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully -- the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer." --Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Guitarist

v  "It's funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women.  The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community.  Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults.  Libraries can never be shushed." --Comedian and author Paula Poundstone, national spokesperson for Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA)
Some people have security systems, and most people have fire extinguishers, but we rely on police and fire departments to serve the community.  Few of us expect our neighbors to hire a personal police officer or firefighter, but in debates about library funding, some say folks should purchase the latest bestseller or visit a Redbox for Movie Night.  Many of us do have some books, films, and reference materials in our homes and on our digital devices, but individually—and as a community--we rely on the library to provide information access far beyond these resources.  We may not ever need a fire truck to race down our street or need to check out a twelve-part documentary on war crimes, but as a community, we have agreed to keep all of these public services available to us all. 
Why?  As many speakers have remarked, “people love the Library”.  Maybe it’s because the library has material exploring everyone’s favorite subjects and because it helps them find new favorites.  Books, movies, and other media deliver new ideas, skills training, engaging human stories that strengthen our own connections to the world and each other, artistic beauty and stress-relieving entertainment, and adventures of the mind.  For many, the library is a sanctuary.  And speakers have noted—and committee members have observed—that librarians are a special breed of passionate customer service provider.  Their life’s work is your life’s learning.

What does a library do?
v  "Books educate us about art and politics and people and ideas.  This happens in non-fiction and fiction.  And in poetry, of course.  So many of us have been moved to a deeper understanding of things -- or many things -- by taking in a few dark lines on the page." -- Author Elizabeth Berg

v  “A good library is a place, a palace where the lofty spirits of all nations and generations meet.” --Samuel Niger (1883-1956)
Where can the library take you?  Have you discovered a favorite author, introduced your child to beloved series, or stumbled upon a documentary and opened yourself to new knowledge? 
v  "When I was a kid and the other kids were home watching Leave It to Beaver, my father and stepmother were marching me off to the library."  --Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host

v  "I used to go to the library all the time when I was a kid.  As a teenager, I got a book on how to write jokes at the library, and that, in turn, launched my comedy career." 
--comedian Drew Carey

v  “I would walk into the Carnegie Library and I would see the pictures of Booker T. and pictures of Frederick Douglass and I would read. I would go into the Savannah Public Libraries in the stacks and see all of the newspapers from all over the country. Did I dream that I would be on the Supreme Court? No. But I dreamt that there was a world out there that was worth pursuing.” --Clarence Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

v  "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island . . ." --Walt Disney (1901-1966)

The Jacksonville Public Library has seen its budget repeatedly reduced.  Reductions to staff and materials need not be the continued trend.  This inquiry’s committee has focused on whether seeking independent funding apart from the City of Jacksonville would better sustain this community’s libraries, and the answer is “Yes.”   Renovations and innovations may be on the horizon.
v  "Everyone loves libraries, but library workers can't live on love alone.  Just ask our landlords, doctors and families." –ALA

v  "If it is right that schools should be maintained by the whole community for the well-being of the whole, it is right also that libraries should be so maintained."--Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, 1904

v  "If you cut funding to libraries, you cut the lifeblood of our communities." --Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

v  "Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague." --Eleanor Crumblehulme, library assistant, University of British Columbia

v  “What is more important in a library than anything else is the fact that it exists. --Archibald Macleish, U.S. Poet

All quotations are from a compilation on the Iowa Library Services website

Monday, May 21, 2012

A JPL Advo-Kit

The Check It Out:  Independent Library Funding Inquiry is coming to a close, and all this talk about dedicated funding for the Jacksonville Public Library has community members excited about advocacy.  Folks are ready to grab clipboards and start gathering petitions.  As plans for a citizens’ initiative and/or a political campaign begin to gel, community members can get involved.  

Speakers in our Inquiry have emphasized the importance of a grassroots movement and relationship-building with top leadership for the dream of dedicated funding to come true.  Our speakers say that advocates for dedicated funding for the JPL  will have to effectively engage the community (think:  petition-signing, outreach, campaign ads, building community consensus, and spreading the word).  They will also have to make meaningful connections with City Council members and the Mayor, and—in the case of an independent tax district—the Florida Legislature and the Governor.
Committee members are excited about putting the advocacy gears in motion.  As those gears begin to turn, committee and community members who want to show their support for sustaining and revitalizing the Jacksonville Public Library need not wait—they can begin advocating for the Library any time with this digital advocacy “kit”:   Save Jax Libraries, Friends of the Public Library, i <3 JPL
·         Save Jax Libraries seeks to propel advocacy efforts in the political arena and in the community.  Depending on the direction leaders of an initiative and referendum take, it can potentially lobby political leadership and fund a local campaign for an independent tax district.
·         The Friends of the Public Library work to support the JPL and promote appreciation of its services.  They raise funds through book sales to preserve and strengthen community libraries.
·         The “i <3 JPL” blog “celebrates and supports” the Jacksonville Public Library and promotes advocacy efforts including writing to elected officials and spreading the word to family and friends to encourage additional support.  They invite volunteers to contact them to learn about advocacy positions that match them with a public school, library branch, or neighborhood.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I need a HERO!

I need a HERO!

“I’m holding out for a hero” . . . but the hero may not have to be “larger than life.”

Speakers have consistently noted that to pass a voter referendum, an issue needs a champion, a strong community figure or someone in a top leadership position.  And we can see how important a champion for a cause can be:  Mayor Delaney was a champion for the Better Jacksonville Plan, building community resources like a ball field and a beautiful downtown library.  Mayor Peyton was a champion for early learning, putting books into the hands of four-year-olds across the city through Mayor Peyton’s Book Club.  Delores and Wayne Weaver have been champions for this community by investing in programs that improve children’s lives.

However, a debate is underwayPowerful people can take on the issue OR people can take on the issue and get powerful people’s attention.  Does an initiative for stable Library funding need a champion from the start, or can Jacksonville’s citizens be the ones who take the initiative to save their libraries from future funding instability?

In a letter to the Florida Times-Union, Tom Brady has called upon community members to be the champions for the Jacksonville Public Library.  Bill Brinton spoke to the inquiry committee and showed the power of a stack of signed petitions that reaches the ceiling.  He suggested that—based on his experience passing legislation—if citizens are organized and dedicated, they may inspire someone in top leadership or a powerful community leader to embrace the cause and arise as the hero.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Trust the Process

You can probably see immediate personal applications of the sage advice to “trust the process”, but here at JCCI it applies to how even when it feels wobbly, like there are too many polarized positions or we’re saying similar things, a diverse group of people can come to consensus.  Over the course of four decades, the hallmark of JCCI’s work has been our process—our model for community change.
We’ve been asked many times, “How do you take a room full of strangers with varied opinions, perspectives, and passions through a series of thought-provoking questions and challenges and ask them to come to consensus in a decision that may affect the whole community?”  Our answer?  “Easy.  Stick to the process.”

OK, maybe it’s not easy.  But we’ve proven time and time again that it works.  And the principles are simple:  During an inquiry process, the committee meets, then listens to experts with a range of information and opinions to contribute to the discussion, and then asks questions.  Members of the group challenge what they’ve heard, challenge each other, and challenge their own thinking, all while being respectful and civil. 

And the civil part is important.  It sounds unlikely, especially given the current political and social climate, but we know it works – and we’ve seen that open dialogue has power.  If you know your voice is going to be heard, it’s easier to keep your tone in check when you really want to say, “Are you KIDDING ME?!”  Instead, our process asks you to calmly say, “I disagree.  Here’s why . . .” and lo and behold, the room hears you and considers your point.

Filibustering or obstructing an opposing viewpoint by making long speeches is forbidden.  Just because you will be heard does not mean you can hog the conversation. 

Consensus is not about a majority vote or a battle of the most vocal viewpoints in the room.  Consensus is about coming to a conclusion.  Period.  How do we get there?  We ask questions to the group assembled:  Based on what we have all heard, what is best for the community?   Have we weighed the points of dissent against the dominant opinion?  Are there concessions, compromises, or ways to address the contentions so that everyone can walk away feeling like they can “live with” the outcome? 

It takes a mixture of some patience, lots of listening, mutual respect, and faith that the process will lead us to this final outcome.  And it always does.  Last Friday, our Inquiry participants deliberated and discussed their ability to make a case for whether the Jacksonville Public Library should pursue dedicated funding, and they determined that yes, in fact, it should.  The next steps in the Inquiry are to discuss how pursuing dedicated funding will happen…and the process continues.

We hope you’ll join us to share your opinions, perspectives and passions about how our community funds our library system.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Do You Like the Library? Check the Box.

Speaker after speaker has stressed the importance of relationship building in any effort to achieve dedicated funding for the Jacksonville Public Library, whether in the form of dedicated millage or an independent tax district.  According to the library directors, campaign consultants, and political science scholars, if the inquiry committee determines that the Jacksonville Public Library should pursue dedicated funding in some form, the strategy for doing so should include the courting of voters, City Council members, the Mayor, and—in the case of an independent tax district—City and State Legislators, and possibly, the Governor.

Remember in junior high when you sent that “Do You Like Me?” note to that boy/girl with the check-the-box options?  You just wanted an answer, yes or no, and nothing was more torturous than the object of your desire drawing in a third box and checking “Maybe.”  “Maybe” is where many voters will be:  Will there be a new tax?  How will my dollars be spent?  Didn’t the Better Jacksonville Plan “take care” of libraries? 

How do you get them to check “Yes” in a Straw Ballot or for a voter referendum?  Why should they like you (the cause)?  Do you ask for favors but never reciprocate?  Do you talk at them?  Are you the complainer who is never satisfied in a relationship?  Craig Buthod told us of voter referendum campaigns, “You can’t win by whining.”  Are you always talking about you on a date? Bruce Barcelo taught us that communication is an opportunity for connecting to a potential supporter’s existing belief system if only we’d listen and hear how the cause fits into it.  It isn’t the materials and facilities in a library that people will support, he says, but the idea of the Library that people will support in a dedicated funding initiative.  A recent Florida Times-Union editorial says more about this, reinforcing that people love their libraries.

Political science scholar Matt Corrigan urged the committee to consider the toxic impact of dissenters within a campaign.  You know the cliché:  You have to love yourself before others can.  In our inquiry, we build consensus so that the group can say with confidence that a decision has been reached.  Just as within our meeting space we need to listen to concerns and hesitations and be sure the group accepts the results, a campaign must respect and appreciate its potential supporters’ positions, or it will see the devastating X in the “No” box.  Bruce said, in a nutshell, “It’s not about you.”  Relationships require more than a statement of need or an ultimatum.  A campaign has to be sweet to voters and leadership, wooing them.  Statistics, data, and facts, talk of fiscal responsibility and accountability are helpful, like getting your sweetheart’s tires rotated, but it’s the meaningful connections that lead to love and faithful support.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dedicated Funding: It's No Cakewalk

An extensive and expensive campaign is necessary to pass a referendum that makes the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) independent of the City of Jacksonville.  Libraries are beloved enough here that garnering strong support in the form of thousands of petition signatures may actually be the easy part.  Just ask the Murray Hill folks.

The hard part is really hard, though.  Politics are stacked against such an effort.  Tallahassee is very reluctant to establish new taxing districts, and the Legislature would have to approve an independent tax district.  Anything that resembles a tax is DOA. 

But wait!  There’s another option. A bid for dedicated millage is a little different.  It doesn’t require a Special Act of the Florida Legislature. If 10 of 19 members of Jacksonville’s City Council and the Mayor support an initiative, it can become a reality.  It takes JPL out of the political fray of the annual budget negotiations. The Library wouldn’t be in the long list of priorities that compete for resources from the General Fund.

Dedicated millage does not ensure the same kind of long-term stability of an independent taxing district. It leaves a possibility for the City of Jacksonville to make a raid on the JPL pantry—taking away all the glory of the cakewalk and the cake-baking supplies.

Our JCCI committee is in the midst of deciding. Is dedicated funding possible?  Libraries support job searches, literacy initiatives (such as the JPL’s 11-year-and-counting adult literacy program), and children’s programming.   It seems like it should be a cakewalk to get dedicated funding, and yet it is not.

So if you’ve seen Extreme Cakes on the Food Network, you know how wobbly the cakewalk to the table can be. Our fearless JCCI committee is about to serve up some great stuff. They have just 1 meeting to go before they make a decision on whether dedicated funding is feasible in Jax.