King County Library System: Building will and resource for continued success

After more than 40 years of public support, King County Library System (KCLS) in the state of Washington experienced its first bond measure defeat in 2002. In 2003, KCLS decided to place a $172 million capital replacement bond before voters.

Metropolitan Group was engaged to develop the public information strategy, and to serve as campaign counsel for KCLS as it educated library patrons about the fall 2004 bond measure. The library system faced a unique set of challenges because it is located in the same county as Seattle, the state’s largest city. Seattle has its own library system (Seattle Public Library), which had recently passed a public funding measure and was completing construction of a new central facility. The major media of the region are located in Seattle, and there is significant voter confusion about the two systems despite their serving very different urban/suburban markets.

Metropolitan Group’s work with KCLS followed its successful community visioning process and incorporated the data gathered from library patrons and supporters. We began with development of a core strategy that was driven by the values defined by the community related to library services and facilities, and the development of key message themes that were also driven by community values.

MG’s work also included strengthening internal capacity through training of library staff, and design of public outreach tools and key tactics for staff use in educating the public about the bond measure.The goal of the public education effort was to create an environment in which KCLS has the capital resources needed to ensure a continued level of quality service to the King County region for the next 10 years. With limited financial resources and strong leveraging of the library’s core assets—its people—the KCLS education initiative resulted in overwhelming success.

King County Library gave more than 175 presentations and garnered broad support from library patrons, numerous cities and chambers of commerce throughout the King County region. As a public agency, the library was appropriately focused on patron education and outreach. A private political action committee, called People for Libraries, was convened and leveraged the strategy and messaging of the education campaign, raising about $125,000 to promote passage of the bond measure. The bond passed with 63 percent of the vote and the education work conducted is now being leveraged for the organization’s ongoing service delivery and community outreach planning.

MG and KCLS were awarded the Public Relations Society of America’s national Silver Anvil Award of Excellence in Public Affairs for this work.