Results of survey

Dr. Walt Eilers delivers the results of a survey on the feasibility of a $5.3 million renovation of the new Searcy Public Libary building on Skyline Drive. The former Searcy Athletic Club was purchased in 2020 to become the new library.

A study to determine the philanthropic support for an estimated cost of $5.3 million to renovate the new Searcy Public Library showed that the needed funding could be raised with “extensive community outreach,” according to Dr. Walt Eilers of Terrapin Consulting.

“We are trying to find out whether you all, your community, would you all step up and help fund $5.3 million,” Eilers told the White County Public Library Friends Foundation last week. “We asked if $5.3 million could be raised, and the answer was ‘yes.’”

He said 62 percent of those talked to thought the most that could be raised was between $2.5 and $5 million, which showed that the campaign is achievable “when we put it all together. Here’s the but ... the campaign is achievable but it will require extensive community outreach to explain what’s in it for you for the rest of the community.”

Eilers said he encouraged those present if they wanted to see what this library would do for them, to go to Baxter County and look at the Donald W. Reynolds Library.

“It’s awesome,” said Eilers, who was involved in the fundraising study for it as well. “It made a great difference in Mountain Home with the resources that they had.”

Eilers said the Mountain Home library was $13 million and $10 million came from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, so the community raised $3 million.

In his survey to see if there was “sufficient support in White County and Searcy to support a $5.3 million renovation campaign,” he said 62 percent of those he talked to were big fans of the library and have used it regularly for years, “many of them for 25 or more.”

Eilers reported that the study consisted of 55 in-person interviews and 63 online participants. “A majority of them, 46 percent, had been involved with the library for 25 or more years. The smallest group were the newcomers; only 9 percent had been involved with the library for 10 years or less. Most of the population that we interviewed, 61 percent were female because what we found from those conversations is moms are the ones who bring their kids to the library for programs.” He said 39 percent were male and 45 percent of the individuals involved were 65 years old or older.

Eilers said participants were asked about their experience with the current library, which was built in 1966 adjacent to Spring Park. Although there are those who say that “it’s cramped, you can’t park and it’s kind of worn out,” he said 52 percent of the participants said their experience was “very positive.” Another 45 percent said it was positive. “So when you put that together, 97 percent of the people we visited with said they have had a positive experience with the library.”

Through multiple choice questions, the respondents were asked what library services they have used in the last 18 months and “even with COVID, 78 percent checked out books, 41.5 percent of the respondents said they went and got digital or ebooks, 33 percent really liked the curbside service,” Eilers said. “They drove up, they took their book and dropped it off, and 22 percent went to children’s programs during that time, so even during the COVID, people were still going to their library.”

The library’s image was next, and Eilers said the basic words the participants used to describe the library were “crowded, hard to access and tired but also busy and delightful.” He said the response concerning image was “good to fair, and that is 73 percent when you add that together. The overall image was that they liked their library, but it is worn and tiny and crowded.”

Concerning reputation, he said 42 percent said the library’s was good, 29 percent said it was excellent, 15 percent said it was fair, 9.3 percent said it was exceptional and 3.1 percent said it was poor. “If you do that math, that’s three people” who rated the library’s reputation as poor, he said.

After talking to respondents, Eilers said the conclusion reached was that there were three things they came to the library for, including “the professional staff.”

“The things that everyone talked about was the staff and how they have been so helpful and accommodating and professional,” he said. “I have been to the library here a number of times and I completely agree with them.”

He said also “there was the broad collection and the programs for children that they found gave them that reputation that I just reported.”

Eilers talked about renovating the new library, the former Searcy Athletic Club on Skyline Drive, being a partnership with families, businesses, teachers and community leaders. “Your bankers, your business people, your elected officials, stepping up with everything that they can,” he said. “Your elected officials I have learned have already made their commitment – they put their money into getting this building for the library to renovate.”

The athletic club, which closed in 2020, was purchased by the city and library system that October, with the city paying half of the $1.7 million cost.

Respondents were asked how achievable renovating the building was and the average score, according to Eilers, on a scale of 1-10 was either 7 or 8 – “62 percent of the votes selected those two scores.”

Eilers said the respondents were asked what was the largest gift that could be raised for the work and at the top of the scale was a million dollars.

“Thirty-percent said more than a million dollars,” Eliers said. “Another 20 percent said between $500,000 and a million. Over a quarter of respondents also believed that there were enough lead gifts available in Searcy, but it would be unique because it would be the first non-church, non-Harding [University] campaign to ask people to come up with $5.3 million.”

The topic of community receptivity brought a powerful answer, according to Eilers, as “66.6 percent said somewhat, 23.9 percent said very, so when you put that together it’s 91 percent.”

When asked whether the library was listed in their personal priorities, “their personal philanthropies, basically the majority said it was in their personal philanthropy that they would consider,” Eilers said. “Another 82 percent when we asked would you give, said yes. We asked them if they would make that a onetime gift over two years or three years, 26 percent, almost 47, said three years, another 34 said one time and 10 percent almost 11 percent said two years, so what you figure is the longer you give people to pay out, the more they will give as a gift was what I learned in the study.”

Concerning the business community, he said it was learned that they would pay out in five years. Hee said that’s what he heard Harding does and the basic thing is “if it works for them, it will work for you.”

A basic rule of fundraising, Eilers said, is “75 percent of your gifts for the campaign must come from six to eight individuals. That is a rule in stone because you got to have those lead gifts, those major gifts to make that 70 to 75 percent.”

Of the respondents answering the question about major gift givers, Eilers said 62 percent of the them said ‘yes, those people are here [while] 38 percent said they don’t think so.”

What do community members expect to get out of the library was something else that respondents were asked, Eilers said. “We asked about a state-of-the-art library and its effects on the economic development, the quality of life and attracting people from outside businesses. Sixty-one percent of the folks said that was a high consideration. Twenty-eight percent, almost 29 percent. said it was moderate. So when you think high and moderate that takes you up to 89 percent, so that is significant too.”

Eilers said there was a survey and needs assessment done in 2015 and that came up with six items that this design for the library is based on. “This is what the priorities you should build for” are, he said. “The six in order is literacy; not surprising, but the second one right behind it is public computer and audiology access; the third is STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math); ... arts and literature was fourth; imagination was fifth; and meeting space was sixth.”

The top areas desired in the design for the library were the children’s collection, followed by the adult collection, the teen collection and the public computers.

In summation, Eilers said that while the answer concerning fundraising was yes, the community’s help is needed to identify those six to eight largest gift donors and encourage them to support the library.

He said one of the things he has learned is that a lot of people think they have the library in their phone or on their computer, but there were a number who do not have access to a computer.

He said he was at the Searcy Public Library in the computer area when “this grandmother walked in and she was holding an iPad. ... She walked up to the librarian and said, ‘My grandson gave me this so we can Facetime.’ He lived out west somewhere. ‘But I have no idea how to use it,’ the grandmother said.

“They sat down with her and it hadn’t been for 45 minutes, they set up her iPad for her, they set up Facetime for her and they actually role played with her how to use it. She left there just bouncing out. They call that triage because someone will walk in and they won’t know what they need but they will come up and say, ‘I don’t know how to do this, can you help me?’ In the new technology world, they adapt and help the patron who comes in.”

That same afternoon, Eilers said he was hanging out with the library staff and a “big guy with a ball cap and everything came in” and walked up kind of “sheepish and said, ‘I need to apply for my CDL [Commercial Driver’s License] but I don’t have a clue how to do that.’ They did the very same thing. They walked him over to a computer. He had no idea how to use it but by the time they finished their instructions, he left having applied for a CDL license.”

Eilers said he shared those stories because he was impressed with the professional staff at the Searcy Public Library.

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