CAMPAIGNS: Supporters band together to save FL's State Library

PR Team: Herrle Communications Group (Tallahassee, FL) and in-house staff/members of the Florida Library Association (Tallahassee, FL) Campaign: Save Your State Library Time Frame: February-May 2003 Budget: Approx. $15,000

PR Team: Herrle Communications Group (Tallahassee, FL) and in-house staff/members of the Florida Library Association (Tallahassee, FL) Campaign: Save Your State Library Time Frame: February-May 2003 Budget: Approx. $15,000

State agencies all over the US winced through budget reductions last year, but proposed cuts to the Florida State Library seemed particularly harsh. Florida Library Association (FLA) officials say Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) proposed budget would have dismantled the institution. A government spokesperson, however, claims a collection consisting largely of common novels merely would have been moved to the publicly accessible library of a private university in an area densely populated with library-card holders. However, 55 of the organization's 120 employees would lose their jobs. The Florida State Library supports public libraries, cares for historical archives, and maintains a circulating collection of books and documents in Tallahassee for state employees and the public. Under Bush's original proposal, the state's park agency would have taken over the archives. Bush also wanted to send the circulating collection to Nova Southeastern University and pay the private institution $5 million over four years to maintain it. "We knew that changes in the structure of state government would bring about changes in the State Library," says FLA president John Szabo. "The governor's plan to dismantle the State Library was shocking to the library community, particularly from a governor who had touted himself as being pro-reading and pro-literacy." The press took up the story, and negative editorials began to appear. Librarians, historians, and genealogists panned the proposal, and the FLA hired Herrle Communications Group to rally opposition. Strategy Herrle's tasks included educating the press as well as feeding and focusing grassroots support that was already building. The Florida Genealogical Society had established a website, for example, and the Florida Historical Society was circulating an online petition. "We wanted to get the facts Joe Public," says Szabo. "We knew it would resonate." Tactics Herrle provided reporters detailed fact sheets about the State Library. Press materials pointed out, for example, that the $10 million circulating collection contained mostly materials relevant to government agencies, and relatively little fiction. The firm also helped the FLA funnel information to grassroots supporters and encouraged them to write legislators. Herrle staged events for library advocates, including a press conference and a capitol rally. "We took a gamble in putting together a very large rally on the date of the governor's State of the State speech," says firm president April Herrle. "We feared that we wouldn't be heard." Results Images of protesters linking hands to encircle the state library building appeared on front pages and TV newscasts. More than 250 library supporters waved signs and chanted things like "No Nova" and "Save the Library." Leaders of both houses opposed the proposal. The legislature rejected the $5 million requested to send the circulating collection to South Florida, and the State Library remained largely intact, losing only a handful of staff positions. "The credit goes to the advocates and those who put pressure on their own legislators," says State Rep. Loranne Ausley (D-FL) of Tallahassee. The campaign also boosted the FLA's membership, and showed the organization what librarians can do when riled up. "It created a culture of advocacy within our association," Szabo says. "We want to build on that." Future The FLA still harbors concerns about the State Library, its future budget, and recent administrative changes. "We're monitoring changes very closely while trying to build bridges and maintain as positive a relationship with the State Library and the new secretary of state as possible," Szabo says.

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