Text of the presentation given by campaigner Angela Montague at The Library Campaign AGM, October 2015. This page provides tips for library campaigners from two years’ experience with the Lincolnshire group.
Skip down to THE TIPS to pass over the campaign backstory.
I represent the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign, which has been in existence for about two years now. I’ll start with a quick summary of what we’ve done.
The council plan in Lincolnshire was to drop the number of council run libraries from 47 to 15, making around 150 staff redundant. These libraries would be replaced with volunteer community hubs (if local people came forward) or a mobile library if not.
The campaign group has opposed these plans in many ways.
Petitions of 23 thousand signatures… several petition were set up including those online and stalls in streets.
A protest march of around 400 people in Lincoln city
A coach trip to Westminster where we met MPs and Ministers in the Houses of Parliament and lobbied central government directly for libraries. This was facilitated and hosted by Nic Dakin MP for Scunthorpe, and organised for the most part by Leslie Hough. We also went across to Downing Street and gave a book to David Cameron. Nine hours in total in a coach. Now that’s dedication.
Letters to the Secretaries of State directly asking for intervention – and we have seen three secretaries come and go in our two years of activity.
A consultation response that emphatically said no to the plans. From the council’s own consultation report: “In terms of the survey response rates, the quantity of completed surveys was high and the volume of qualitative data generated within these was exceptional. In over a decade of research work the analysis team at SHU had not experienced any survey (on any topic) generating such a high volume of qualitative data / written comments. In excess of 21,300 comments (779 A4 pages) were read, coded and analysed.”
A Judicial Review in July 2014, where the council lost on two grounds: the consultation was fundamentally flawed (the key thing being that the decision had already effectively being made) and the council had failed to properly consider the alternative proposals made by GLL to run the service.
Support from the movers and shakes including globally recognised authors and celebrities, organisations like The Library Campaign, and MPs and councillors from all parties.
There has been another high court hearing this July in which this time, sadly, the council won, and the council is now going ahead with its plans. The judgement here has only just been handed down so I am not able to discuss it today.
I am now going to do a whistle stop tour of what we did that worked, what I would do differently and what we did not do, but should have done. Bear in mind we have an immovable council executive in safe seats, your fate does not have to be ours. I hope the story of Lincolnshire will enable you to fight smarter and harder for your libraries.
Your first task is to agree the language of your campaign.
The council in our case repeatedly argued they were ‘not closing any libraries’. There was a battle of language. Our argument was that a library was a place with paid staff, these WERE being closed and a volunteer community hub or mobile was a substitute. Councils like to make up new words to make cuts sound acceptable, an improvement even, use clear and precise language to counter this. It’s important to get your words and definitions fixed from day one and control how these words are used if you can. And, if your council says there are no plans to close libraries, find out exactly what they mean by this, because they could mean substituting libraries and paid staff with volunteer hubs. Check out the Lincolnshire Conservative party pre-cuts manifesto, and compare what they promised here to the reality of the cuts:
Leadership from the likes of The Library Campaign and CILIP would be helpful in establishing a united use of language when campaigning, and I note that the new CILIP phrase seems to be ‘the amateurisation of libraries’ which I think is very helpful.
Make it clear what you stand for. No cuts? No redundancies? Libraries must be publicly owned? Agreeing this will not be easy.
Make it clear you are not anti-volunteers, don’t let that divide you. Many of our strongest campaigners are people who have considered the volunteer route but as a last resort. But they fight first. A phrase from a speech by fellow campaigner Leah Warriner Wood speaks volumes: “We are not anti-volunteer, we are pro-librarian”.
Research all the arguments around libraries and volunteers, and make sure anyone speaking for you has these down pat. You will be asked silly questions but resist the urge to give a silly answer. You will also be asked inflammatory questions.
Also another early task is to set up a Google Alert for all your key terms, this means Google will perform an automated search for those terms once a day and email you the results – a big time saver. We’ve set one up for “Save Lincolnshire Libraries”, “Lincolnshire Libraries”, “Lincs Libraries” and all other variations we can think of, and we’ve just added searches for the names of the volunteer hubs, so any changes to them reported in the news will be automatically be emailed to us.
CO-ORDINATE YOUR CONSULTATION RESPONSE
Most changes to library services go through a consultation stage. In Lincolnshire it was obvious to all (including the high court judge in the first JR) that the council’s consultation gave people no means to voice opposition to the plan. At this early stage people needed a guide to the consultation document from the campaign and suggestions on how to complete the form it in a way that aligned with the campaign’s stance. This could be extended with a guide on how to tackle the consultation meetings the council organised too. We did not do this, but I wish we did. A blog post on this, or even a YouTube piece to camera talking through the form (boosted on Facebook, see below) would have been invaluable here.
Lewisham campaigners have created a written a guide to their consultation, find it here: Reading Between the Lines of the Consultation.
I’M NOW GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU NEED IN A CAMPAIGN GROUP
Speakers – to speak to the press, including radio and TV, and handle the Punch and Judy style debates the media love. They must be available, articulate, at ease with confrontation and able to retain a lot of details on the campaign and the wider topic of libraries. Non-political people are an asset as political squabbling can suck the life out of a campaign and turn a group supported by all political shades (as ours is) into a political football. Not to mention squabbling adults will simply turn a lot of people off your campaign. If you can get someone who is also charming then you’ve hit the jackpot… because councillors, your likely opposition, tend to lack charm. More than one speaker would be great too. For the most part we had retired head teacher Julie Harrison. Julie’s message to library campaigners is: “Be bold, remember you are a member of the public in a free and democratic society, you can speak your mind and demand answers, temper what you say with ‘It’s my understanding…’ if needs be, but don’t hold back or hesitate if you have a question to ask or point to make.”
PR – you need someone who’s able to write a press release and send it to the right people, I’d recommend approaching a local PR company and begging them to donate the email list of local and regional press to your campaign. With key print titles take note of the the last day to submit your press release for it to be published that week. Be a reliable resource for the press, if you do not have an instant answer when they get in touch, still reply saying you’re handling it, they have frantic daily deadlines and will thank you for recognising this. We are lucky in Lincolnshire as all the media have been very sympathetic to our cause and we generally could punch well above our weight against the council because the press gave us an equal platform.
Also in PR terms, get access to volunteer groups ASAP. Do your best to not make them ‘the enemy’, in our case we found volunteers were hugely sympathetic to the campaign and felt coerced into volunteering. If you can communicate with them early it will be a huge asset. Reaching those volunteer groups has been very difficult; Lincolnshire is a massive county.
From day one, when you write your press releases or speak on the radio, include an invitation for anyone to get involved with the campaign, especially anyone planning to be a volunteer. Have an easy to remember email ready for people to use, or a phone number if possible. You need their stories to counter any attempt by the council to say volunteers are happy and willing.
To gather these stories, we put a message out on Facebook.
Specifically, we asked anyone that had submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) to run their library as volunteers if they did this because they:
(a) welcomed the opportunity to run a library in their community
(b) believed that if they did not put forward an EOI their community would no longer have a library
The response was overwhelmingly (B) which meant we would counter the spin. Volunteer groups started to talk to us to record that they were not willing or happy. As time went on we also recorded groups like parish councils withdrawing bids and volunteers withdrawing their support, with their reasons.
This page is still live here and still recording what’s happening in the hubs as the council’s plan took hold this September. Three libraries are already closed for good, as their volunteer hub did not materialise.
Reach out to all councillors, final decisions lie with these people. Plans can and should be changed as a result of strong public opinion. Get as many on your side as you can. Our approach was the ‘big tent’, we did our best to be politically neutral and work with anyone that supported our goals. This is not easy.
Also under the PR heading are those other groups you can reach out to. As well as The Library Campaign there is Speak up for Libraries, Voices for the Library, CILIP, Unison, The Society of Authors, The Reading Agency, Public Libraries News and indomitable library campaigners Shirley Burnham, Alan Wylie and author Alan Gibbons who can be found on Twitter. We have found the people in these organisations hugely supportive, and in many cases a vital asset. The Bookseller is a national trade publication that reports on campaigns and worth interacting with on Twitter.
Other campaign groups are also there to work with, support each other in social media and in real life, if you can travel to their events. Search Twitter and Facebook for “save library” and “save libraries’ and you’ll find them.
Marketing – creating posters (including the miniature ones for use in social media) that look good is a crucial skill to make your campaign reach and convince people. There are many free apps to do this, including Canva on desktop and Phonto on smartphone. This poster was created with Google’s free Picasa software, and appeared in many high street shops to promote our march.
This next mini-poster was created with Phonto using a photo of my daughter reading a Malorie Blackman book against a blank wall – a deliberate arrangement to give a blank page for the text. It took me ten minutes to go from photo to finished poster, though I am very familiar with the app. A checklist of what to include in these mini-posters: emotive photo, excellent quote, clear message, clear call to action (what people should do to help), clear website for more information, prompt to share. Square format is the best catch-all for social media use.
Photography and video – campaigners that can take a good photo or video (this includes smartphone) are an excellent resource, as these can be used in press releases and on social media. We did not use videos enough.
Social media – regular social media updates are crucial for reaching your local people and those key names that can make a big difference. We used Twitter and Facebook above all. Through Twitter we have got the support of actress Minnie Driver, which caused a major fuss in our press, and authors Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Malorie Blackman, Michael Rosen and celebrities like Johnnie Vegas, Mary Beard, Robert Webb… there is a long list.
Every time we got a significant mention in social media, this was screen captured and placed in a dedicated Facebook album. Post on timelines soon fade, but a Facebook Album is a permanent record you can point to time and time again. Create them for all events and any other visual evidence you want to group and file.
For every big event, we had a unique hashtag and took photos and uploaded them as it happened. We could then use the site TweetReach to see how much activity surrounded the tag.
You must also rally people to support you on social media with their own accounts, and support other campaigns back.
‘Midnight Mass’ – When you have a big campaign moment about to happen, get up at midnight and tweet all key accounts with the details (so as to not flood your timeline in the day) asking directly for an RT, attach an image if you can. When everyone wakes up, your event will be RT’ed many times at that peak breakfast moment.
On reflection I would recommend a Facebook Page not a group. We started with a group where everyone posts and discusses under their own avatars. A Page gives central campaigners anonymity (some may need this, eg as relatives of council workers). It also gives you the chance to boost key posts (that is pay for them to be seen by everyone that likes the page, their friends, other categories of Facebook user, there are a lot of options) for small fees like £5-£10. So when you have that march, when your petition launches, when you are booking the coach to Westminster, you can pay £5 from funds and make sure the details are promoted to a wide audience. Boldly ask people to share the post too when you compose the status update text. Very effective marketing for a small charge.
Email – Email is essential to reach people who are not immersed in social media. A few options here. You can strongly encourage people to subscribe to your blog so they get email updates. You can also make use of the free version of MailChimp which is a fantastic web based application that lets you create and send email newsletters, which I would suggest replicate your blog posts. MailChimp tells you who opened the newsletter so you know exactly who you are reaching. You can also make use of traditional newsgroups like RiseUp when.
Corresponders – Traditional letter writing has a vital role to play. For example we wrote to Michael Morpurgo’s agent when he was due to visit Lincoln university and were were astonished with the outcome: he made part of his speech about the proposed cuts and attacked the council’s plan. Lobbying decision makers, influencers (including councillors as this whole thing boils down to councillors) by well written letters / emails is essential back room work, and an excellent way for people to contribute who may not be using social media.
Petition gatherers. There are a few sites out there where you can set up a petition and my strong advice here is to get one live as soon as you can, to save all the libraries not individual ones, and promote it heavily, so all names gather in the one place.
We used Change.org and you’ll notice on the page there are ‘reasons for signing’ and an option to click ‘more reasons’. By clicking ‘more reasons’ many times, we were able to pull our 900 very emotive and detailed comments from this petition and make them a separate blog page (that if printed would make 100 A4 pages). We also made this into a book delivered to No 10 when we went to Westminster. So if you use a Change.Org petition, strongly encourage people to comment and know where to click, you’ll have a books worth of of genuine, emotive comments to use in many ways. Other online petitions may also offer this, I have not checked.
You also need people who will set up a stall in a high street on a Saturday and gather petition names, making sure the wording matches the online version.
In most areas you need to reach a number of names to trigger a council debate, find out what that is as it helps when encouraging people to sign to have a goal. Also check early on any hoops the council will make you jump through such as matching wording on all petitions or addresses within the region.
Minster Botherers – People to scale the central government wall. For us this was retired chief librarian Maurice Nauta who has written several times to the various Secretary of States to ask for intervention. These letters are very detailed, and on the blog. We still have no definitive reply.
Maurice Nauta says this on his letters:
I have been thinking about what I have achieved with my letters to the SoS. It is hard to judge and there has obviously been no change of heart from them, or any discernible movement of thinking, though I am still awaiting a reply to my last letter. Not holding my breath!
I have come up with these “ soft” achievements:
- Shown others that they can write letters and make views known at MP level.
- Demonstrated the grass roots interest in and positive support for libraries and their key roles in communities.
- Encouraged Minsters to consider what is and what is not a “comprehensive and efficient service”.
So you can see that with the mini posters above you are engaging people with a casual interest in the campaign, and with the 14 page letters to central government, you are engaging people that want to know all the minute details. Campaign messages are like music, you need the theme anyone can hum, before you reveal the complex symphony based on that theme.
A legal team should you reach the stage of judicial review. Our campaign worked with Public Interest Lawyers, but other lawyers are available. The JR was brought by a member of the public, Simon Draper, who is a full time carer for his disabled wife. For this reason Simon has access to full legal aid, making it possible for him to challenge the council which as you can imagine has considerable financial resources. This does carry a risk to the individual, as detailed on Simon’s latest Facebook post here (link).
The legal team was supported by many campaigners who did a lot of unpaid research for them.
A blog builder and maintainer – A blog is a website that includes all your latest news AND you can add pages to it to cover your key campaign actions. Our blog was created in WordPress, other free platforms are out there like Blogger by Google. I’ll just go through the pages we needed to create in our campaign, which you can see on the menu at the top here.
Home on this page I have attempted to summarise the key developments in the campaign, latest first. This page has been added to many times. News and Updates shows the latest blog posts, there are about 60 on the site though, a massive back story.
Big Library March, this records the protest match in Lincoln and includes a video of that. It also records all the press coverage with a list of links, which is something I do when there is a big event.
Write to Vaizey records our letters to Ed Vaizey
900 comments reproduces the comments on the Change.Org petition.
About a timeline of the campaign in more details
Alternative Plans there have been two key alternative plans for the libraries submitted to the council, this page details them.
Contact obvious and essential.
Councils that listen here we recorded council’s that had significantly changed their library plans after consultation to prove it was possible.
SoS Letter these are all the very detailed letters from Maurice Nauta to the Secretary of Stage.
Speeches from our speaker Julie Harrison made just before the final decision to go ahead with the plans.
Tory Support a main line of attack from the Lincs council executive was that campaigners were all just members of The Labour Party. This page was created to spotlight the considerable report we had from Tory MPs and councillors, and includes a quote from David Cameron praising the campaign at the point of the first judicial review win.
Villains the council executive who voted for the plans, and examples of the most extreme spin the council has put forward.
Volunteer Crisis such an important page. We’ve recorded the truth that many volunteers are not willing to replace paid staff, we have also recorded groups that have withdrawn bids and we are now recording libraries that have closed for good, in that no volunteer hub has been put in place for them. If Lincolnshire’s volunteer solution fails, we will have a record of this for other councils and campaigners to take as a warning. Research into volunteer libraries is badly needed to stop councils are forging ahead and doing irreparable damage to public libraries.
Tips the text of this talk will go here so you can easily find it.
Finally, I will talk about two pages I wish I had created:
A page that lists all the email addresses for writing letter to the press (not the same as the address to send a press release to) so that when we say on Facebook or Twitter ‘write to the paper about this outrage’ we can direct people to that page so they can immediately find the write email to use – a call to action.
I would also add a page listing local MPs’ and councillors’ contact details for the same reason, if people are outraged at the latest development, you need them to get that email written and sent. Not knowing which councillor to send it to or what email to use can mean the moment is lost and the email sits in the drafts folder forever.
The excellent website ‘write to them’ does offer an alternative here. Put your postcode in to find out your specific county councillors, MPs and MEPs. You can also use the site to message them too. But a page on your campaign website of who to write to about your libraries makes it easy to do so.
So, that’s it.
Thank you for listening, I hope you picked up a few new ideas.
Feel free to add your campaigner tips via our contact page, and make this a detailed resource for other campaigns.
Angela Montague is a business owner and mother of two school age children. She acknowledges the huge role of libraries in her success as a businesswoman and in the ongoing growth of her children. Her company is Push Creativity Studios, Lincolnshire.