Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) Community Relations and Planning Director Jim Staley

Savannah Community Forum Discussion Summary and Recording

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MCPL is a three-county library system with 35 library locations serving a population of 790,000 people in the Kansas City metropolitan area over 1,349 square miles outside of the urban core.

Community Relations and Planning Director, Jim Staley and Library Director Steve Potter began the discussion rolling back history ten years (that’s where it ALL really started), calling the library, at that time, Kansas City’s best kept secret—with limited impact on the community. 

Library leadership knew it was time for a change. With a focus on becoming a more relevant, purpose-based organization, Potter’s definition of success included increased visibility in both the local and the library community.Backed by MCPL Board of Trustees, the library pushed forward. A strategic plan outlined immediate next steps: to re-imagine the organization starting with a focus on library customers and the local community.

Needs of both identified the necessity for additional funding–that’s when the library decided to go to its voters.

Advanced polling showed that 56% of people were strongly in favor or in favor for a general ballot issue, and there was a similar level of agreement to the costs for the tax increase. The focus: renovate and replace aging facilities, and expand programs, services and collections to serve public demand.
Fast-forward to the days leading up to the levy, Staley explains the library’s campaign approach. “It started with who votes? Who uses the library? And who does both?,” says Staley. And, strategies were designed with each in mind.

The campaign consisted of an information kit, 1,000 public meetings, social media campaigns, an advocacy campaign (conducted by an outside party), and awareness-based emails (three) sent via Savannah to library customers. 

By November 9, 2016, Proposition L passed at 62.3 percent.

Post evaluation of the campaign revealed the following (with additional details and charts available in the video):

  • 62% of cardholders reached via email voted in November. If you didn’t receive any emails, only 57% voted. If you received at least one election-specific email, that jumped up to 67.5% voting. If you opened at least one election-related email, that jumped to 75%. And, if you clicked on a link to more info on at least one election-related email, 85%. 
  • Of the 393 voting precincts, 378 were over 50% in support (only 15 were under 50%), allowing the library to confidently say there were people all over the district in support of the levy. 
  • Library usership trends positive. For the overall model, after adjusting for presidential election results and election geography, on average there was a 1% increase in yes votes for every 5% increase in active cardholder voter percentage (95% interval: .55% to 1.45% increase in Yes votes; p<.0001, highly statistically significant).
  • Election geography mattered. In three precincts where MCPL lost, they had a library, but were the only other school districts that had something on the ballot. 
  • Levy yes votes had an inverse relationship to more conservative voters, finding that the more rural/conservative voter base was less likely to vote yes for the MCPL levy. 

What’s next for the library? 

  • A new co-facility partnership with local children’s museum 
  • Expanding services beyond library walls – reaching out with mobile library (Reading Rocket)
  • Adding hours to library locations
  • Building a new innovative website incorporating content targeted to an individual’s segment

Watch the full presentation