Will Everything Change?
A campaign for our library
At Widgets, we look for ways to apply good design thinking to the public sphere, as well as private enterprise. Sometimes, these opportunities are as close as your local library. So when a group of library supporters asked us to help generate public interest in the future of our public library, our kneejerk reaction was "Nothing will change." Which, of course, made us want to help change everything.
Yes, libraries have helped shape us and our culture, and we are grateful. But libraries have also come to symbolize life lagging slightly behind the curve, without much intention of catching up. To put a rough edge on it: the library isn't a significant cultural center in Chattanooga; ours in particular is a city AND county library, with 44 letters and 2 governments in its name. Which doesn't always inspire confidence in its relevance.
So the library decided to hold a consultant-led charrette, to talk about what the community wants, going forward. The consultants asked us to help bring at least fifty Chattanoogans to the charrette.
Direct Mail, meet Street Art
As a design team, with particular input from we decided first to highlight skepticism that anything will change, and to follow this message closely with one about the power of those who speak up to help. Because if nobody spoke up at the charrette — sharing their ideas and hopes for the future — then we were guaranteed that nothing will change.
We started with a plan to send direct mail to Friends of the Library and local foundations’ mailing lists of active citizens. The message of the mailer was, as it says at the top, "Your library is YOUR library." Alongside the mailing was a street marketing campaign of stickers, coasters and coffee sleeves, with a focus of placing these in restaurants, bars and coffee houses where the invitation to a library event would be unexpected. Through overprinting, the message of "nothing will change" also showed that "everything" was possible.
But just before the launch, we pulled back. It seemed that the campaign was missing something to make it more than hype. Everything we had made to date communicated the power of the public to speak up, and reshape things. But for it truly to make a difference, the library would have to be on board too. How to communicate that the library was serious about listening to unexpected ideas from unexpected voices, that it was willing to break with assumption of what a library is, does, will do?
A library's love of words
+ willingness to change
+ street-level thinking
+ overturning expectations about what a library will do
= pink spraypaint.
So we sent our intern to deface the library with a message of “Nothing will change.”
Ten days later, we went back and overpainted the graffiti to read "Everything will change", and provide a web site address about the visioning charrette.
Public reaction, public participation
Suddenly, the public was talking. Traffic slowed down on Broad Street as people drove past the library headquarters, scratching their heads. The library visioning committee was invited to be on Talk Radio, to talk about the graffiti — and its message. The editors of the local newspaper wrote that Widgets & Stone should be ashamed for promoting vandalism.
However, the editors also let us write a response, which they were gracious enough to print on the front page of the Sunday editorial section. Our message was directed at all parties involved — the library, the City, the County, the consultants.
But it was also directed all all of the parties not involved — the public who had checked out of the library, because of an assumption that the library had become irrelevant, or a loss of faith that change is possible. If we care about the library, then let's do something. And to start, come to the visioning charrette, and say something.
The end is a beginning
Over 200 people attended the visioning event, many more than the consultants had seen in similar events held in larger cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. This is, in my opinion, due to a great application of design thinking by Widgets designers Paul Rustand, Matt Greenwell, Joseph Shipp, Brad Dicharry and DJ Trischler.
What results will come out of the input given that night is a bigger question, because it's a long way from a charrette to real change.
But by getting people to show up and speak up, we helped our library have a chance. Because no matter whose name is on the library, who tries to own credit or disown fault for the library's current irrelevance, the simple fact of the matter is that we own the public library. All of us.
- collaborator Caleb Ludwick
Creative Direction: Paul Rustand; Designers: Joseph Shipp, Matt Greenwell, D.J.Trischler.
Strategy and Writing: Caleb Ludwick.