It seemed clear even 15 years ago that the community of Gilroy would need a new library. The 12,500 square foot Gilroy Library opened its doors in 1975 with a collection of 57,000 items to serve a population of less than 15,000 people.
The size of the current collection has grown to nearly 150,000 items serving a population that is expected to exceed 70,000 by 2020. Studies by the architectural team showed that renovation of the existing facility to meet current earthquake safety standards, add more space, and upgrade antiquated systems would cost more than the construction of a new facility.
The Gilroy Library is a member of the Santa Clara County Library, a joint power authority agency. The partnership between the County Library and its member cities is a simple one – each member city owns and constructs the local library and the County Library operates the building providing staff, materials and services.
After more than 10 years of extensive public discourse, three unsuccessful bids for competitive state library construction funds, and growing worries over the failing economy, the dream of a new library for the City of Gilroy seemed to be a fleeting one. But then came time for the 2008 presidential election with its expectation for a high voter turnout offering the possibility of another way to fund a new library.
A citizen’s group, led by the husband and wife team of Jay and Vicki Baksa, decided to approach the City Council. Baksa had once served as Gilroy’s city administrator until he retired after a 30-plus year career.
Polling results by a consulting firm retained by the City of Gilroy were inconclusive. There was a 50-50 chance that a measure which needed more than two-thirds could be successful.
“A campaign will not be easy. It will be work, but I see nothing in the recent polling results that indicates that it will fail. … Give us a chance,” said Baksa before the City Council. Then a few days before the filing deadline, the Gilroy City Council voted cautiously but unanimously to place a $37 million library bond measure on the November 2008 ballot.
It seemed to be an impossible task. With less than three months until the election, the Library4Gilroy Steering Committee (L4G) mobilized to secure the more than two-thirds vote needed to pass the measure.
The team chose the right leader and spokesman in Baksa with his administrative skills, experience and knowledge of the community, and they also hired a political consulting firm with a strong track record for success. Motivated by an unblemished track record, the consultants were willing to negotiate an affordable fee for L4G.
Within this narrow time frame, the 18 member L4G committee raised what little money it could and became hands-on organizers.
But more than that, this was an experienced, dedicated and talented team that a few years earlier had successfully passed a library operations measure in Gilroy raising the vote percentage double digits over a failed previous attempt at the polls. In this last chance effort for a new library, they would have to do it again.
The campaign was low-key but broad-based. In addition to help and support from private citizens, there was cooperation with labor unions and with the steering committee for the school district bond measure that also appeared on the November 2008 ballot.
A grassroots group called La Voz de la Gente walked precincts, phone banked in Spanish and registered voters within the Hispanic community. The local community college social science department directed students to the campaign to gain experience and the chance to work with Bob Sigala, a well-respected, retired labor organizer.
The library message was carried in every local venue possible including announcements at local meetings and church gatherings, on the public access cable television channel and in the local press. Messages were placed in organizational newsletters and talks were given at coffees in private homes and for local clubs.
Tables were staffed by volunteers in front of the library, grocery stores, at parent–teacher nights, and local health and community fairs.
For every positive contact that was made, supporter information was mined so that emails could later be sent, volunteers could be recruited, endorsements secured and their pledges collected. This information was entered immediately into the campaign database and posted on the L4G website.
Because of the volume of mail-in ballots expected, getting the message out required careful timing. Four mailers had been planned but the campaign had to stretch its dollars across the months leading up to Election Day and Election Day itself. Three mailers were sent to targeted voters at carefully timed intervals.
A local real estate company donated office space. A couple of local businesses offered after–hours and weekend telephone banking space. When there were not enough telephones, the volunteers brought their own cell phones.
A significant presence was provided by the dynamic L4G website. It was interactive, attractive and updated almost immediately. Donors could make payments via PayPal then could print out a certificate for two free books at the Friends of the Library monthly book sale.
Key endorsements and statements were acquired and then immediately posted often with a quote and sometimes a photo. Signs for residential and small business windows could be printed out from the website as well as coloring sheets for children to embellish and display.
Interviews were posted including transcripts and videos. Articles were written about the history of the library and other topics. A “value calculator” showed you how much money you saved each time you used the library instead of buying your books. Unfortunately, the Internet service provider deleted the L4G website and neither the ISP nor the L4G webmasters archived a copy!
There were many extraordinary things about the campaign and the victory. Perhaps the most noteworthy is that Gilroy is a fiscally conservative town where ballot measures historically failed including those for schools and even public safety.
In pre–election polling, the library enjoyed a very high vote of confidence in the community particularly within the Latino community. There may be no correlation, but it seems that margin of victory was very close to the number of voters in the Voz de la Gente target group.
On Election Day, volunteers telephoned voters up until 10 minutes to poll closing time. “Get out the vote! Every vote counts!” And it came to pass that it did. The measure passed with 69.04 percent.