Monday, September 12, 2011

NOW WHAT? Life after MOE/MOMS and Local Relationship Building

Thanks to successful lobbying by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, maintenance of a three year average funding for public libraries (MOE) is no longer a condition for maintenance of membership support (MOMS). What we have come to think of as MOE/MOMS is gone.

The ability of DPI/DLTCL and individual systems to hold loss of system membership and system services over the heads of our local elected at budget time as incentive for doing the right thing by their libraries is also gone. The likelihood that MOE/MOMS will be restored to state statutes any time soon could make the Labors of Hercules look like blowing dandelion fluff.

The next two years are uncharted territory. Towns, cities, villages and counties are operating under a 2% levy limit cap. Shared revenue and road aids have been reduced. There are many aspects of the 2011-2013 state budget that will impact local expenditures in ways yet to be determined.

Library relationships with funding bodies will not be well served in the long term by threats of DPI/DLTCL and system sanctions, even if that was possible. There is value in working through this next year with a non-combative “we’re all in this together” attitude, allowing plenty of room for everybody to do their best under unique conditions.

Because local politics overlay the decisions made by municipal officials dealing with the fiscal here and now, there is potential for focused influence by citizens who need, appreciate, and depend upon services provided by their local public library. If the impetus to eliminate MOE/MOMS truly percolated up to League leadership from the front line ranks of municipal officials, then the key to changing that organizational dynamic rests with individual efforts of trustees, friends and librarians city by city, town by town, and county by county.

If MOE/MOMS has been the centerpiece, the Do Not Cross Line if you will of annual discussions between the director of the AnyTown Public Library and AnyTown Council members, then that director and library board may very well anticipate serious difficulties negotiating the 2012 budget now that the yellow tape has been ripped down. “Maintain this or we will lose that” will need to be replaced with a more comprehensive approach focused on the way library services change people’s lives in AnyTown on a daily basis.

Most Wisconsin public libraries have already been actively engaged in relationship building with the elected local officials who hold sway over their budgets, by showcasing the success stories of citizen library advocates alongside program publicity and statistics as part of their annual presentations. It’s time to step it up a notch.

As the state budget process unfolded earlier this year, library community advocacy efforts to save MOE/MOMS directed at state legislators also raised the consciousness of community advocates, who can now be redirected to pay attention to budget decisions made by officials at the local level. These citizen advocates should be asking: “We lost the MOE/MOMS fight in Madison; will our municipal council and board members now take advantage of that loss and to what degree?”

Having familiar trusted faces in the audience to speak up for libraries during monthly municipal meetings as well as budget hearings can make a tremendous difference. But it’s the informal conversations that are the most effective. Local lobbying is built on pre-existing relationships between library supporters and elected officials forged in neighborhoods and workplaces, Legion halls and beauty parlors, golf courses and bowling alleys, coffee and bridge clubs, church and civic organizations.

Each community is different; the keys to success for one library will not fit the strongbox locks in the community down the road. Networking citizen supporters is crucial to successful library advocacy in any year under any circumstances. For starters, check out these timely suggestions from WLA Legislative Committee chair Paul Nelson.

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