The “Community Ambassador” program at Sno-Isle Libraries enlists, equips and enables individuals to share testimonies and stories about the importance of public libraries within their sphere of influence. The program transforms “fear of library advocacy” into the “joy of sharing library stories.”
Sno-Isle Libraries found that consistently high customer satisfaction and non-user awareness ratings did not translate into corresponding levels of support in recent levy and bond measures. Calls for library advocacy went unmet and grassroots support seemed negligible when it really mattered. A suitable method for engaging advocacy and citizen awareness-building was missing. The Library District knew it must find a way to transform the level and depth of broad-based support before facing the pressures of eventual ballot measures. Lessons had been learned that the time to deepen awareness and engage support is not when the ballot question is before the public, but years before. Sno-Isle Libraries chose to better understand why challenges existed in finding advocates and how they were used. Subsequently, the Library District developed a new strategy to advance and enable advocacy by fitting it within a larger initiative to build and use a storehouse of library stories and testimonials. “Library advocates” were then reframed and repurposed as “Community Ambassadors” who could help share these stories and supply the missing connection with taxpayers, voters and residents. Community Ambassadors are individuals who share their testimony and stories about the library. They converse with and listen to contacts within their spheres of influence. This is a much warmer, softer role than being perceived as someone who is an agenda-pusher and who overwhelms others using philosophical debate, facts and figures.
Key Elements of Innovation
This more gentle interpersonal and positive, diplomatic approach was presented and warmly received by existing library supporters – trustees, Friends, local advisory and foundation board members, to leverage their social network connections. Community Ambassador use impromptu opportunities to share their testimony and collected stories to illustrate how important the library is with people within their sphere of influence. The Community Ambassador program creates a vital connection with Sno-Isle Libraries and its customers and also between library customers and non-users. The program is broadening visibility of library services, channeling community passion about the importance of libraries, and fostering a better understanding of library funding realities and needs through stories and testimonials. Training: Several three-hour interactive training sessions taught Ambassadors: • how to view every conversation and venue as an opportunity to promote libraries, • how to develop and share their testimony and stories, • how to share pertinent library information. At graduation, attendees celebrated and received official ambassador badges, resource binders and certificates of graduation. They were asked to report back to Library staff and share their conversations with contacts. Tools/Support: A number of tools were developed to support Community Ambassadors. • Ambassador resource binder included a variety of library user stories and library facts. • Short video clips for Ambassador use with audiences. • Quarterly e-letter, “Ambassador,” sent to graduates and targeted audiences with new library stories and testimonials, early-breaking library news and “insider” information. • Regular library news updates sent between newsletter issues.
Early positive outcomes from the program include: • Significant participation - Sixty-two Community Ambassadors graduates within first five months. • Ongoing positive feedback – Anecdotal feedback and Zoomerang surveys indicate desired activities. • Targeted behaviors achieved – On average, each participant has shared with approximately 20 individuals. Ambassadors have: o shared with family at home (46%); o shared with friends and neighbors at social gatherings (77%); o shared library stories in stores, restaurants or coffee shops (38%); o given community presentations in front of groups (54%), o sent email using library stories in emails (25%); o blogged or posted online through social media (17%), o sent letters to opinion pages of local newspapers (17%;) and o published newspaper articles with library stories (25%). • To date, 27 magazine, newspaper and newsletter articles and letters to the editor have been submitted. • Vital early successes have validated the softer word-of-mouth approach –Early positive results reflect the power of in-person story-telling and story-sharing through social media sites. Positive, receptive responses from their audiences validate the Ambassador and fuel their willingness and excitement to tell others. This emboldens Ambassadors to share stories with a widening circle of family, friends and contacts who tend to value what they hear as credible and genuine. Plans call for twice-annual electronic surveys with Ambassadors to measure thoughts about the program, to provide opportunity for self-reporting by Ambassadors on their activity and to collect insights/feedback from the field. We also plan to incorporate questions, in future district-wide library user and non-user surveys, to measure the effectiveness of Community Ambassadors efforts. Giving voice to this cadre of Community Ambassadors has translated their passion for libraries into positive actions and results.