New Report: Factors of Success for Libraries on the Ballot 2014 - 2018

There is a tremendous amount of speculation about the internal and external factors that potentially influence the outcome for a library on Election Day. In Factors of Success for Libraries on the Ballot” report, we analyze over 700 library elections between 2014 and 2018 across 50 variables taken from the IMLS Public Library Survey and the American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau to determine what, if any, factors are determinants of success.

More than 90% of library funding is determined at the local level, either by the will of elected officials or by voters themselves. In the ten years since the Great Recession,  more than 1,400 ballot measure questions about public library funding or building projects have been placed before the voters on local Election Days. The findings in this report are important in understanding what conditions or behaviors are beneficial or detrimental in helping a library succeed during the election season, whether it’s demographics, economics, or attitudinal - and which are not relevant or influential on Election Day.  With these data-driven insights, libraries can improve the quality of their campaigning and communications as they focus on their Election Days.

Top-Level Findings

The most surprising outcome was that most of the 40 IMLS PLS variables and 10 ACS variables did not significantly influence the odds of a ballot initiative passing. Of the 50 variables included, only seven had any significant correlation that increased or decreased the odds of a campaign passing or failing. 

At the library-level, these were:

  • Visits to the library 
  • Programming for children 
  • The available technology 
  • The extent of electronic collections 
  • The library's total revenue

At the community level, these factors were:

  • The median income of the community
  • The education level, particularly high school graduation rates

However, key factors like the demographics of a community and its current tax burden, the number of library staff, the size and scope of a collection, and overall engagements with the community had little to no influence on election outcomes. 

Visits Appear to Matter

The IMLS PLS data included many variables related to in-person services, including programming attendance for all programs; the number of public service hours per year; the total annual reference transactions; the number of internet-enabled computers for public use; and the total number of visits per year. Of all the library-level factors that appeared to matter on Election Day, the leading odds-increasing factor was the total number of visits per year. 

Kids May Not Win at the Ballot Box 

Library staff and supporters have stated for years that children and children's services matter when it comes to winning at the polls. When reflecting on why her 2003 ballot initiative passed, one library director said, "she believes people are more persuaded to support the library for children's sake than for abstract ideals like the common good". The data, however, bears out the opposite. An abundance of children’s programs actually correlates to lower chances of success on the ballot. 

Education Levels Do Factor 

The impact of education levels is something that comes up frequently when discussing both voters and library supporters.  This report considered three variables from the ACS in understanding the local (county-level) community: the percent of the population with less than a high school degree; the percentage of the people with a bachelor's degree or higher; and the percentage with only a high school diploma. Of those three variables, the only one that had a significant influence on the odds of a campaign passing or failing was the percentage of the population with only a high school diploma.

Investments in Technology May Up the Odds

Two of the internal-to-the-library variables that appeared to influence the odds of passing a ballot measure are centered around electronics and computing. While we cannot definitively point to a cause or effect, our data did show that the higher the number of internet-connected terminals that a library possessed, the greater the odds that their campaign would pass. In addition, a higher number of electronic resources provided through the state library also increased the odds of a campaign passing.

Please download the full report “Factors of Success for Libraries on the Ballot” at

Factors of Success for Libraries on the Ballot
Understanding Community Characteristics and Library Activities that Influence Ballot Measure Outcomes 2014 - 2018

EveryLibrary Institute, 2021
By Valarie McNutt, Jieqing “Letty” Yang, and John Chrastka