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Town Hall meetings

Anne Arundel County Public Library

Innovation Leader: Laurie L. Hayes, Manager, Public Relations and Marketing, lhayes@aacpl.net

Problem Statement

The budget of the Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) has been cut by more than 17 percent since 2008, a time during which other Anne Arundel County-funded agencies saw, on average, a seven percent reduction in funding. Many customers have noticed cutbacks in services and hours over the past several years, but few understand what necessitated the changes. The County government has threatened an additional 10 percent funding reduction in Fiscal Year 2012. Because we as a library system documented that AACPL has taken more than our fair share of cuts and also because the administration and staff wished to convey our commitment to providing the best possible library services, we sought a way to both educate and involve our customers in the budget process.

Innovation

We decided to host “Town Hall” meetings at four libraries located strategically throughout County on consecutive Thursday evenings in March (Thursday evening hours are among those being threatened by further cuts.). The meetings were publicized in the AACPL quarterly magazine as well as on the AACPL website and Facebook page and also through press releases and personal contacts with local media, including print, web, radio and television. Organized so that the first half-hour featured a Power Point presentation and discussion by Library Administrator Skip Auld that described many aspects of library services including usage and other statistics, the meetings also gave Mr. Auld an opportunity to detail our current and proposed budget situation. The formal presentation also included a request for patrons to contact the County Executive, who develops the County budget, and their County Council representative to express the importance of the Library to the community. The second half-hour was dedicated to questions and comments from the audience. The entire executive team attended all four meetings and was available to answer questions.

Progress

In all, more than 850 individuals attended the Town Hall meetings, many of whom pledged to advocate on the Library’s behalf. (In addition, the meetings prompted many spontaneous monetary contributions to the AACPL Foundation.) The resulting media coverage, including several front-page news and feature articles that both announced the meetings and gave an overview of the Library’s budget, as well as coverage of the meetings themselves, brought the message to countless other county residents. Armed with an AACPL-generated fact sheet, a list of County contacts and a sample letter, scores of concerned customers have contacted elected officials on the Library’s behalf. The FY ’12 budget will not be struck until May 31, but we are confident that those making the funding decisions are now aware of many reasons to preserve and restore AACPL’s funding.