Photo by Katie Sokoler.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) is facing a $37m reduction in financing. The resulting reduction in services and job losses will inevitably reflect the huge scale of cuts which are outlined in the Mayor’s Executive Budget Proposal.
It is hard to argue against fiscal responsibility in these straitened times, but it is not hard to argue for fairness. The cuts heaped on the NYPL are more than four times greater than the next public sector service area affected. A disproportionate difference by any measure.
This decision may reflect a Philistinism in the Mayor’s office or maybe the bureaucrats saw an easy target to pick off. Who knows? The decision has been made. The question is what can people do to save their library system from being stripped to the bone?
“Luckily for us, social media is the great equalizer,” says Deanna Lee, Vice President for Communications and Marketing. “Don’t Close the Book on Libraries” is the title of the advocacy campaign “aimed towards getting restorations from the City Council and Mayor from the current proposed City budget cut”. Visitors first arriving at the main NYPL site will see a ‘homepage hijack’.
Instead of standard celebrity appeals, which Deanna describes as work-intensive to produce and to make viral, she has tapped into what is already working in the social media space. In concert with Improv Everywhere whose mission is to cause “scenes of chaos and joy in public spaces”, the Ghostbusters video was created. With over a million and a half hits and rising, it is a viral success by any standards. There is a behind the scenes slideshow in this Huffington Post article where you can see pictures that did not appear in the video. And let’s not forget Tillman the Skateboarding Dog, who in his own inimitable manner has already registered 20k plus hits.
But social media is not just about one particular campaign on YouTube. Its power lies in its ability to reach out to various people in different ways wherever they may be. But just as importantly it is about the engagement of others. It is not a one-way street.
The following are examples of spontaneous support for the library:
- A Bangladeshi photographer in NYC created art in support of the campaign, also with links back to the action site.
- A patent attorney who started an unofficial “Save the NYPL” Facebook group has nearly 600 members at the time of writing. He’s also started his own online “Save the NYPL” t-shirt store and says he will donate profits to NYPL.
- Teenagers from Jefferson Market are also starting to create and distribute buttons for the NYPL.
The results from all this activity have been extraordinary. NYPL originally hoped to raise $50k in donations to help fund the campaign. But after $78k was raised, they have now had to readjust the target to $100k. Facebook visits have tripled at the campaign site and friending at the main site has gone up by almost half. Twitter followers have also increased by 10% since the start of the advocacy campaign and this is only week two!
It is all very fitting. The NYPL is a community service and it is right and just that the community can be involved in saving it. If social media technology has to have any value beyond corporate branding, then it has to be from a ground-up, roots-based, approach.