In 2013, the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) received the ALA President's Award for Advocacy, sponsored by United for Libraries, for its work to restore state funding for libraries through its 2012 campaign “Literacy Through Libraries: A Dollar Does It.”
CAL and its legislative committee began the campaign. Although a funding mechanism in the state budget had existed since around 2001, the line item had gone unfunded for years due to budget constraints. This left Colorado as one of only a handful of states with no direct support of libraries.
During the economic downturn, the committee worked with lobbyists and the Colorado State Library staff to identify the best message to share with legislators to ensure that existing funds remained in place. To that end, events such as an annual "Lobby Day" visit to the state capitol focused on sharing how libraries supported Colorado businesses, workers, and the economy.
As the economy slowly improved, the same group determined that the time was right to talk to legislators about reinstating the cut funds. CAL had ample data and documentation identifying the library's role in supporting an overwhelming demand for critical resources to patrons, businesses, and taxpayers at the same time that revenues for library services were reduced.
Because CAL felt a specific request had a better chance of resonating with lawmakers than an open-ended ask, and because libraries were part of the lieutenant governor's early childhood literacy effort, CAL focused on what libraries could do with additional monies targeted on childhood literacy.
CAL requested one dollar per capita, for a total of $5.2 million statewide. The goal was to receive any funding possible, along with re-establishing libraries as a priority in the state budget. This funding request would bring money into each publicly funded school, academic, and public library in the state.
CAL developed a campaign and a brochure with the theme of "Literacy Through Libraries: A Dollar Does It." A resolution was distributed statewide to library directors, library Trustees, and other library supporters such as Friends groups and Foundations. The hundreds of citizen volunteers who serve as board members statewide were perfectly situated to act as advocates, as they represent the community's interests.
Key components of the campaign were:
- Posting the funding resolution on the CAL page, and asking libraries and Trustees to download and present it to their boards for endorsement. Supporters were listed on the website.
- Providing a brochure to be distributed to supporters and legislators.
- Providing sample speaking points, letters, emails, and phone scripts, and emailing library advocates (including Trustees, Friends, and other supporters) around the state and asking them to contact their local legislators to discuss library funding.
- Targeting members of the joint budget committee and asking citizens who had representatives on the committee to call and email them.
- Urging library advocates statewide to set up visits with their senators and representatives (in their libraries if possible) to establish and maintain productive relationships, as well as discuss the funding initiative.
- Staging an annual Colorado Library Lobby Day at the state capitol in Denver, complete with displays, pamphlets, handouts, and volunteers. In 2012, CAL adjusted the ofcus of the effort to speak personally with legislators to make the case for the importance of library funding.
The response was gratifying. CAL heard from supporters throughout the state who stepped up on behalf of libraries. CAL was notified that the joint budget committee approved a motion to include $2 million to fund the State Grants to Libraries Act for only the second time in 10 years.
“We are gratified that our legislators responded to the targeted message and campaign carried on by so many library advocates in Colorado,” said Robin Gard of the CAL Legislative Committee. “We have made every effort to establish ongoing relationships with state lawmakers through sharing the library’s role in helping Coloradans succeed.”