Third Time’s the Charm for Troy Public Library

A massive grassroots effort saves the day

August 3, 2011

“This is one of the best days I’ve had in two years!” exulted Cathleen Russ, director of Troy (Mich.) Public Library the morning after some 58% of voters saved the library from closing permanently by approving a five-year operating millage. The August 2 special election was the third library referendum held there in the past few years; voters had rejected the previous measures—albeit by a narrower margin the second time around.

“I hope to reinstate some programming (as much as the budget will allow), and hire a full-time head of youth services, a position that’s been vacant for three years,” Russ told American Libraries, noting that officials had yet to determine just when to anticipate receiving initial revenues from the dedicated .7-mil property assessment, which will add an average of $70 per year to property taxes on a $200,000 home.

Russ continued, “I do hope to fill other open positions, which are open because 14 people left for other employment over the last year.”

A massive grassroots effort to get the out the “yes” vote ranged from yard signs to social media campaigns. Boing Boing contributor Steamed Punk blogged August 3, “Most of the work was done by people young and old who live here and benefit directly from the library. However, there were many people from all around the world who supported our efforts and helped us overcome those who had worked to defeat the last two funding source proposals.”

One attention-getting campaign emanated from a group calling itself Saveguarding American Families (SAFE), which generated an uproar among library lovers in early July with yard signs and a Facebook presence urging a “no” vote on August 2 so that Troy could hold a book-burning party on August 5, when TPL would have been forced to close. On July 14, the group changed its Facebook page to reveal that it was actually conducting a satirical reverse-psychology campaign and that its real intention was to shock people into realizing what they would lose if the library closed.

“This community has become numb to the rational conversation surrounding the library,” SAFE declared in an email that librarian Paul Everett Nelson blogged July 14 he had just received. The email continued, “Books burned or shrink-wrapped. In the end the result is the same. If the vote fails, the [library] doors will be locked and the books gone from sight. Out of sight, out of mind. We can’t kid ourselves into believing the library will reopen any time soon. If ever.”

Those opposed to the millage took comfort in the size of their movement. “We are just grassroots people,” Troy Citizens United member Barbara Harrell said in the August 3 Troy Patch. “They had to call out the big guns.”

“It took them three times to get a tax hike, and they spent a lot more for getting a lot less,” Harrell added, referring to city officials lowering the millage request from 1 mil, which was repeatedly defeated, to .7 mils.


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