EveryLibrary is a national 501c4 non-profit with a mission to support libraries and librarians. A focus on raising funds for public libraries and school library programs is a key component of the organization which strives to engage the political process at local, state, and federal levels. EveryLibrary had an ongoing partnership with Follett Learning and together they help to support school library budgets and school librarians through its SaveSchoolLibrarians.org digital action site as well as through advocacy with state school library associations and organizations.
EveryLibrary was founded by John Chrastka. EveryLibrary’s mission is to focus on restoring school librarians to schools across the country is affirmed by the findings of a longitudinal study completed by Dr. Stephen Krashen, an international linguistics scholar, and his colleagues that found that well-stocked libraries make a big difference in literacy levels among children and are, in fact, the only component that truly matters when it comes to closing the gap that exists in literacy levels between children living in poverty and their more well-off peers. These conclusions were in line with those of other studies like Keith Curry Lance’s school library impact studies which also highlighted that the quality of a school library was a clear indicator of reading achievement.
Libraries have always made a difference in the lives of learners everywhere and, for students, achievement is highest when care and consideration is put into a library’s collection, staffing, and funding. Having a well-stocked library at a child’s school is how education can support students in all demographics. They ensure that there is access to knowledge and reading materials in a location the child visits daily and that there are sufficient books for the child to take home with them to continue their education in a home setting.
School librarians are also an integral part of making sure school libraries are properly run. Well-qualified librarians are equipped to collaborate with teachers on lessons, instructing students, providing technology support, working with staff on professional development, and many more. Unfortunately, the United States has experienced a decline in school librarian employment since the Great Recession. EveryLibrary was established in 2012 and has since provided donor-supported pro-bono advising and consulting to 115 library campaigns helping to win over $328 million in stable tax funding and contributed enormously to SaveSchoolLibrarians.org digital advocacy platform.
EveryLibrary founder John Chrastka recently discussed the organization and its work via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover books and what are your favorite childhood stories?
John Chrastka (JC): My mom and dad are people who read and they were my first teachers. While children’s literature has come a long way since I was a child, my brothers and I were always encouraged and supported in our reading. We were fortunate as a family to have books in our home as well as access to our neighborhood and school libraries. As a kid who loved the Chronicles of Narnia and other fantasy and Sci-Fi I needed multiple sources to keep me reading!
MM: What childhood memories do you have of libraries?
JC: I was a child in the 80s and an early Latchkey Kid. The school library was important to my school work but the Berwyn Public Library was my afterschool refuge. The branch was halfway between school and home so I spent many days reading my way across entire shelves. The librarians were always giving me little suggestions and nudges, too, about things they thought I’d like. It made me the reader I am today.
MM: How did you initially find out about the studies linking strong literacy and better education with libraries?
JC: It’s interesting to me that so many other sectors – from health and education to the business community and skilled trades – all understand that literacy is key to supporting successful individuals and vibrant communities. There is a straight line between libraries in schools and neighborhoods and literacy rates, reading skills, and personal growth. It only makes sense to invest in the infrastructure of literacy that is a properly staffed and properly resourced library. It’s the only place in a community that is open and available to everyone, and it is the only classroom in the school that every student uses. If we want to help people succeed, we need to invest in our libraries.
MM: What professional background did you have prior to launching EveryLibrary?
JC: I am not a librarian. I came to work with libraries as an “accidental career”. Prior to starting EveryLibrary I worked in both Ed Tech and the associations. I can’t think of a more important civic or social institution than libraries, which is why I’ve moved into a career that is dedicated to making sure they are open and accessible to everyone.
MM: How long did it take to plan this organization and launch it? How has the organization grown since its establishment?
JC: We envisioned EveryLibrary as a unique organization dedicated to the funding future for libraries of all types. The idea was to create a political action committee for libraries instead of another non-profit organization. This approach to a library PAC grew out of the realization that any decision to fund libraries is, at its most basic, a conversation about how we want to tax ourselves. So, a values-driven PAC was the right approach. We started out in September 2012 as a crowd-funded project. We had zero dollars in the bank and only a few close, personal and professional backers when we launched, but we met our initial goals. Through a lot of work and engagement we’ve grown to over 200,000 people in our activist network and over 350,000 on social media. Our first supporters were librarians and library workers who liked the idea of a political action committee for libraries. As we’ve been successful advocates, we’ve brought folks in from all walks of life and all parts of the country to be part of the campaign to support libraries
MM: What sorts of books and programs have you seen kids take to the most?
JC: The programs and books are kind of static without a librarian – either in a school library or a public library – to connect kids with what they are reading. It’s about the librarians knowing their students and families. It could be a selection from the national summer reading program or it could be a story that isn’t told too often, but kids of any ability or reading level tend to respond to books and programs when librarians take an interest in them. We are here at EveryLibrary to try and ensure that those librarians have the funding they need to do that one-to-one work.
MM: What have been some of the most memorable stories to come out of this initiative?
JC: My favorite campaign was when we helped the community in Ferguson, MO approve new funding for their library. You may remember that during the riots following the killing of Michael Brown the library was the one place in town that was open and welcoming throughout. After the riots, the library was a core part of the healing and recovery. I was proud to have EveryLibrary provide the campaign team in Ferguson with effective pro-bono advising and consulting to help pass the funding measure.
MM: What is some of the best feedback you’ve gotten about EveryLibrary?
JC: When we first launched, a seasoned librarian told me that EveryLibrary was the “first new idea since Dewey”. After I picked myself up off the floor, I realized he was right. As the first national political action committee for libraries, it breaks the mold for how other organizations work in our sector. I’m glad that our unique focus on engaging the political process attracts that kind of notice.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future expansion and evolution of EveryLibrary?
JC: We want to help librarians and library workers in public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries get the funding they need to serve every community and campus. It’s a lot more work than it should be sometimes. Folks have become disconnected from the role that trained librarians have in our society. We want to continue to focus on the people who do great work in libraries and invite people around the country who care to join us.
MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what initiatives might you like to explore in the future?
JC: Every other year we host an Artist in Residence program to help connect across the political and literacy work we do. It’s a fun project – and we may be the only political action committee doing this kind of arts and culture programing. We hope it helps remind people that politics needs the arts because without some reflection and consideration, politics is just a tax bill. We are also very excited to work on a statewide campaign in Delaware to help connect those libraries with more people who believe in the power of literacy and learning. Delaware libraries do an amazing job all across the state for people who want and need them. We are there to help connect people who care about the outcomes that libraries provide with a pathway to support their local, K-12, and statewide library services.
JC: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
JC: EveryLibrary, the national 501c4 non-profit with a mission to support libraries and librarians in the United States, is hosting “5K Your Way For Libraries” initiative, with the goal of raising $50,000 to ensure EveryLibrary can continue their library-saving work! There are many ways to join EveryLibrary’s 5K between September 26th to October 2nd:
Sponsorship: Become a sponsor and show your network you support the work of EveryLibrary.
Form a Team: Become a team leader and invite your friends and family to join your team and together raise critical funds.
Join a Team: Join an existing team, get moving, and ask others to support you with a donation.
Join as an Individual: Sign up as an individual, do your thing, and raise some money!
Donate: Make a donation to ensure EveryLibrary can continue to help libraries in crisis across the country.
5kyourwayforlibraries.org, participants are encouraged to use the hashtag, #5KYourWayForLibraries.
EveryLibrary’s work helps public, school, and college libraries secure new funding through tax and advisory referendums, bond elections, negotiations with school boards, and advocacy at municipal, state, and federal levels. To learn more, read the Annual Report or visit the full website at EveryLibrary.org