The Glass Half Full

By: Sandy Swanson

Half empty or half full? A classic example used in numerous articles and self-help books asks us to identify how we see the glass. The thought is that if we see the glass half empty, we are pessimists. We have a client, Wadsworth Public Library, who chose to see their financial situation quite the opposite way. With their optimistic attitude and determination, they passed a levy that had failed just eight months earlier. You can also read a related article about the Wadsworth Public Library on the Library Journal blog, The Digital Shift.

Glass half fullOrangeBoy provided the Wadsworth Public Library, located in Medina County, Ohio, analytics about its customers and community to pass a crucial operating levy. This time, armed with optimism, dedicated volunteers, and good data, it worked. Here’s how they did it.

The library is anchored between the Akron and Cleveland metropolitan areas and it serves a community of approximately 25,000. The community had seen steady declines in state library funding since 2001, but it reached a critical point from 2008 through 2010, after sharp cuts to library funding due to the recession. This resulted in immediate budget reductions of $500,000 for the library (nearly 20 percent of its overall budget), and cumulative losses of $2 million over the previous 10 years. These cuts reduced operating hours, staff and programs.

The library went to the voters in March 2012 and attempted to pass a 1.25 mill levy. Despite a valiant effort from community volunteers and the library, the levy did not pass.

A ‘half-empty’ mind-set could have overcome the library and they might have just given up, cutting library services even further. But they didn’t. They decided to re-group and try a different approach. This time, they adjusted the desired levy to 1 mill, formed another dedicated volunteer committee, and hired OrangeBoy to understand the market dynamics at play.

OrangeBoy helped the library with a comprehensive market analysis. Our study identified where their cardholders lived and displayed geographic trends visually with GIS maps, in addition to identifying other demographic characteristics of their customers and the overall market. We also incorporated voter registration information to add deeper insights about voting patterns in their community.

After presenting our research, the library decided to play to its strength and focus its levy efforts on known supporters. They believed they would have a better chance at passing the levy if they could encourage loyal users to get to the polls. Their strategy worked, and the levy passed with 55 percent of the vote, a nine point swing from the election just eight months earlier.

Our role in this effort is extremely rewarding, but it is their ‘half full’ optimism that inspires me. When I have a day that didn’t go as planned or am greeted with disappointing news, I remember the Wadsworth Public Library and look at that glass a whole new way.

Here’s to an optimistic and rewarding new year.

Leave us your comments or questions below.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

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