In the fight for more funding, America’s libraries have a new champion in thriller author Karin Slaughter and her Save the Libraries Campaign, whose inaugural event on March 12 raised $42,000 for the 25-branch DeKalb County Public Library in Atlanta, Ga.
For years now, libraries across the country have been dealing with a steady decrease in funding and a simultaneous increase in attendance. According to the ALA, library use increased 23% between 2006 and 2009, while 2010 saw library budgets cut in 41 states; at the national level, Obama’s 2012 budget proposal cuts $20 million from library funding.
Slaughter gave a speech on the importance of libraries at the 2010 BookExpo America and wrote an op-ed in her hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It wasn’t long after that Slaughter decided, “rather than complaining about the paucity of funds, I should get off my butt and do something about it.”
“So, I called up some friends at the International Thriller Writers Association and pitched them a crazy idea,” Slaughter told PW via e-mail. “Have the ITW hold a lottery to pick four libraries from the four corners of the continental U.S., and ITW will send each winner at least four New York Times bestselling authors to do an event of their choosing.” To ensure that the host libraries haul in as much money as possible, authors would pay their own way and forgo any kind of payment. “We don’t want to do events where (God help us) they lose money or even just break even. The goal is to raise some serious dough.”
For her first event, Atlanta native Slaughter picked the libraries that nurtured her as a child, for which she was named an honorary chair of the DeKalb Library Foundation. Donna Brazzell, executive director of that foundation, reported that DeKalb County Public Library is taking a $3 million cut this year, which means decreased hours (Thursday evenings will be cut, and all but one branch will be closed on Sundays), shuttered facilities (the Stonecrest Library, though finished last August, remains closed, effectively keeping its 40,000 volumes from circulation), and—perhaps worst of all—no money for new books.
The Saturday night event, called “A Mysterious Evening” and held in the library’s Decatur branch, brought together authors Karin Slaughter, Kathryn Stockett, and Mary Kay Andrews, and sold out in less than two months. Brazzell said that the DeKalb libraries had never held a sold-out fund-raiser, and never raised more than $12,000. “A lot of it was Karin,” said Brazzell. “She brought sponsors, she brought guests, she brought items to auction, she brought her own contributions, she herself was a sponsor.”
Those sponsors included Baker & Taylor and the Victoria Sanders & Associates agency, which represents Slaughter. Besides drinks, food, mingling, and book signing, some 200 attendees enjoyed a one-act play by Eileen Moushey, Murder Medium Rare, and bid, in a silent auction, on items donated by local businesses and literary insiders, including galleys for upcoming books, character names, and personal services: “I reached out to my agent to do a trip to New York to have lunch with her. My U.K. editor is reading a manuscript and offering an editorial letter. My L.A. agent is reading a film script.”
Slaughter also credited her publishing team at Random House. “Random House is definitely invested in keeping libraries healthy. My editor, Kate Miciak, even came down for the event.” At the next fund-raiser, in Boston, Random House president Gina Centrello will put up for auction a slot in the publisher’s “Big Mouth” program, which sends new galleys out to influential readers.
The Boston event in June will be the second of two pilots, in which Slaughter hopes to perfect the fund-raising formula; Douglas Preston, Dennis Lehane, Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, and Linda Fairstein are all scheduled to be there. Slaughter said she wants to make the two events so successful “that no one will question whether to have one—believe it or not, that’s an issue, as a lot of libraries have fund-raisers that don’t bring in much money.”
Slaughter’s long-term goal “is to have an ‘event in a box’ button on the Web site (savethelibraries.com) where librarians can download logos, press releases, ads, advertising time lines, media time lines, and a manual on how to run a successful event and reach out to publishers and authors, so they can do these events on their own.” The ITW is fully committed to support Slaughter’s venture, “which means we can reach out to our thousands of authors worldwide to beg them to help promote the events or donate.”
As far as DeKalb County Public Library is concerned, the event was an unmitigated success. When asked what $42,000 will do for DeKalb libraries, Brazzell said the board had already approved spending $40,000 on books and materials.