LEGO contest loss could be library’s gain

LEGO’s Read! Build! Play! contest ended earlier this month, and with it the frustrations of residents whose daily votes for the Downers Grove Public Library were no match for the apparently sketchy tactics plied on behalf of some of its competitors.

The library finished in seventh place, with 17,228 “nominations”–good enough to win a LEGO early literacy toolkit. The contest winner, the Mount Airy, N.C., library, logged 79,456 nominations and was awarded the top prize of $5,000.

The results caused barely a ripple among the Downers Grove Facebook community, which had responded enthusiastically after library staffers brought the contest to its attention in early July. Among the first libraries to enter the contest, Downers Grove and the Rochester Public Library remained in a neck-and-neck race for the top spot for weeks. Then, in August, the Mount Airy Public Library surged ahead with as many as 2,000 votes in a single day.

“We raised concerns with LEGO since we were getting patron questions when it was obvious something was going on,” said Melissa Doornbos, the library’s public relations manager. “They were basing (the contest) on the honor system, which allowed one vote per day per browser.”

Belatedly, LEGO realized that there were ways to get around the honor system, Doornbos said. But once the huge lead was in place, there apparently was no way to rectify it. A LEGO spokesman has not yet responded to the DGreport‘s requests for information about the contest. This story will be updated if and when that information becomes available.

Another aspect of the contest raised some local hackles (including mine): The contest deadline was set for three months in the future. “They didn’t have the date posted at first and we thought, ‘oh we’ve got this’,” Doornbos said. “But when we heard it was October 1, we thought, ‘holy cow,’ especially once the bigger libraries began to hear about it.”

While LEGO may have hoped library patrons would visit its website every day for months, the contest began to feel like a war of attrition, particularly when it became clear that small-town libraries were competing against library districts that served as many as two million patrons.

But while local residents’ enthusiasm for the contest waned, Downers Grove librarians gained some valuable lessons in the power and reach of social media from the experience.

Visitors to the library’s Facebook page suggested that there may be other, more local ideas for raising money for library programs and “extras,” and the staff will consider that possibility once work on its strategic plan is completed, Doornbos said. “We’re putting it on our list of things to do.”










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