Facing Cuts, NYPL turns to Improv Everywhere for Viral Advocacy Video

May 18, 2010

Fearing severe budget cuts more than ghosts, New York Public Library teamed up with public pranksters Improv Everywhere to host one of IE's missions at the library—and produce a viral video supporting NYPL's "Don't Close the Book on Libraries" advocacy campaign in the process.

"We are facing a $37 million budget cut from the city of New York," NYPL spokeswoman Angela Montefinise told American Libraries. As a result, she said the library is trying to reach out to new audiences, and Improv Everywhere offers audience in abundance.

The library contacted Improv Everywhere, but IE largely developed the prank on its own. "We said we wanted them to do something and we wanted to incorporate the closing of a book," to support the campaign theme. "They went with it."

The stunt, which recreated a scene from Ghostbusters in the library's Rose Reading Room, took place on Saturday, May 8. Three people dressed as ghosts entered, one by one, and read or used computers as normal library patrons. The team of Ghostbusters soon entered, and after a short commotion, chased the ghosts from the library to laughter and applause from the other patrons.

Montefinise said that library staff were aware of the stunt before it happened, so they wouldn't inadvertantly ruin it and so they would be ready to provide information about the advocacy campaign. The mission drew plenty of interest from them as well, however. "When they knew it was going to start, they started trickling in" to the reading room to watch, she noted.

Stretching a budget

The Improv Everywhere mission, and the resulting video released May 17, represent a creative and low-budget way to get NYPL's message out. "We're facing budget cuts so we don't want to spend much money—or any money," Montefinise said. The library did not have to expend much energy planning or coordinating, and Improv Everywhere used its own equipment.

Naturally, the library hopes the video makes an impact, and early signs are good. "It's gone viral very quickly, and people seem to be liking the video," Montefinise said. While it's too early to know if it has increased traffic to the library's advocacy website, she added, anecdotal evidence is promising.

This is actually the second viral video in support of NYPL's advocacy campaign. A May 10 video featured YouTube sensation Tillman the Skateboarding Bulldog visiting the library.



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