Public Library Friends Group without Paid Staff
- The Friends of the Blake Library in Stuart, Inc. (Stuart, FL)
- Friends of the Morgan Hill Library (Morgan Hill, CA)
- Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library (Westhampton, MA)
Public Library Friends Group with Assistance from Paid Staff
- Friends of the Abilene Public Library (Abilene, TX)
- Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association (Ottawa, Canada)
In 1996, the voters of Martin County, Florida, approved a referendum for a 1% for one-year tax increase to fund new libraries. The main branch, The Blake Library, was completed in 1999. The next several years saw the rapid construction of five other branches. Each library formed their own Friends group, ran separate book sales and kept their individual proceeds. Tax cuts and budget constraints of the 2000’s, however, challenged the Friends to take on greater fundraising responsibilities. With the realization that cooperation and collaboration could produce greater profits, a committee was formed to realize the dream of a centralized bookstore. The idea for the Book Depot was formed.
With the dream of a retail bookstore and all the diverse Friends groups on board, the first obstacle was finding a suitable, affordable large space. Space was found in the B & A Flea Market in Stuart, FL. Open on weekends, this popular flea market insures steady traffic and plenty of available parking spaces. Open on Saturdays and Sundays year round from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Book Depot is staffed entirely by volunteers from each of the six Friends groups. Profits are distributed equally to each branch library or used to upgrade the Book Depot. A committee of twelve, two from each of the Friends groups, manages the Book Depot. A team leader is rotated among the committee members.
Once the building site was secured, over 100 volunteers tackled the job of outfitting an empty space. With energy, enthusiasm, and team spirit, they cleaned the 4,500 square foot space, painted the walls, and built the shelves. Local artists added murals and colorful graphics. Thousands of books and audios were collected, sorted, and priced. Local merchants donated lumber, ceramic tile, paint, carpet, and recycled materials. Eagle Scouts donated their time and the entire community came together in support of the Book Depot.
From the day the Book Depot opened its doors, it has been an unqualified success. Hundreds of people come through its doors each weekend, browsing and buying. Book dealers have been spotted in the Book Depot, buying cartons of books. As word has spread, customers are coming from as far away as the west coast of Florida (Stuart is located on the east coast of the state). The greatest success, however, is the revenue generated by the sales. Distribution for the first year of operation resulted in $9,300 per Friends group for a total of $55,800. In the first 13 months the Book Depot more than doubled the amount all the Friends groups made with individual sales in the previous year. Profits enabled the Book Depot to purchase a new computer, add more air-conditioned space, and upgrade shelving units. Once the Friends groups realized the value of cooperation, they began planning an upscale Bizarre Bazaar to be held at the County Fairgrounds in November, 2008.
The innovation, enthusiasm, and create fundraising shown by the five Friends groups of the Martin County Library System serves as a role model for other Friends groups as they seek to fulfill their mission of advocacy and library support.
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Friends of the Morgan Hill Library (Morgan Hill, CA)
From left to right: Sarah Flowers, Deputy County Librarian, Santa Clara County Library; Carol O'Hare, Treasurer, Friends of the Morgan Hill Library; and Rosanne Macek, Community Librarian, Morgan Hill Library
The Friends of the Morgan Hill Library planned and implemented a one-time fundraising campaign, dubbed the Beyond Books Campaign, ahead of the construction of a new facility for the Morgan Hill Library which opened in July, 2007. The campaign raised funds for the purchase of art and furnishing beyond what was provided by the city budget for the new library building.
The Beyond Books Campaign was planned and implemented entirely by volunteers and was headed by the president of the Friends. A 15-member steering committee began meeting in January, 2006, to plan the fundraising effort. The campaign, which raised $180,000, concluded on July 21, 2007, with the grand opening of the new library. The campaign committee represented a wide range of community members, including political leaders (the major and a school board member), an artist, members of the local media, library staff, and other library supporters. The committee brainstormed fundraising ideas that would reach all segments of the community, researched artists and library furnishing needs, created a campaign logo, and networked with other community groups to garner wide support for the campaign.
Two large events were planned in conjunction with the campaign: An Afternoon in Tuscany and Silicon Valley Puzzle Day. Afternoon in Tuscany, an author reception hosted at a supporter’s home, was the designated kick-off event for the campaign and raised $11,000. Attendees enjoyed refreshments donated by local restaurants, wine from a Morgan Hill winery, a silent auction of books, art, trips, gift certificates and gift baskets, and a chance to meet and hear from 13 authors and buy their books. The event was attended by more than 100 people.
The Silicon Valley Puzzle Day featured sudoku and crossword puzzle competitions held at a local public high school. It was the only ticketed event of its kind on the West Coast. In addition to the tournaments, the event featured puzzle-themed workshops and non-competitive puzzle fun for all ages, including a giant community crossword puzzle and a marketplace. The Friends partnered with the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM), which is building a new headquarters and conference center in Morgan Hill, and other community groups as well. Puzzle Day was so well receive the Friends have turned it into an annual event!
The Friends also coordinated a direct solicitation of donations via mail, email, personal contact, and grant applications. Donors at various levels were offered premiums that ranged from listing in the grand opening program to a campaign-themed tote bag, from inclusion on a donor wall in the new library to naming rights for a part of the new library.
Extensive volunteer participation was required to establish donor levels, contact potential donors, and prepare solicitation materials. Potential major donors were visited by the major and president of the Friends and were shown a slideshow presentation to solicit contributions of $5,000 to $10,000. The campaign raised more than $180,000, a sizeable sum for a community of approximately 38,000 residents. In addition, the Friends donated $50,000 from the prior year’s book sales to the campaign.
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Friends of the Westhampton (MA) Public Library
The small town of Westhampton, Massachusetts (population approx. 1700) secured a grant of nearly $1.1 million from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to purchase the historic Parsonage building in the center of town and convert it into a modern, accessible library. The new library would replace the well-used but inefficient and outdate space of the current library, preserve approximately two acres of open space behind the Parsonage for public use, and permit the existing library space to be used for much-needed town office space.
To receive the million-dollar grant, the town needed to finance approximately $700,000 of the project. Raising property taxes to cover this expense just wasn’t going to work – and the Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library knew they were working against the clock. The state could release funds at anytime; the town’s portion had to be in-hand for the grant to be administered. The fund raising effort for what became known as The Town Center Library Project required creativity and determination. Among a series of innovative fundraising events planned for 2006, 2007 and 2008 was unique pair of community-building festivals: Read-Around-the-Clock and Lounging for Literacy.
Read-Around-the-Clock was a 24-hour read-a-thon planned by the Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library. Forty-eight townspeople of all ages, both Friends members and other avid Westhampton readers took turns reading in a screened tent positioned just behind the future library. Each reader signed up for a half-hour session in the tent and read aloud to seniors, children, early-morning walkers and runners, and anyone else who turned up to witness the public readings. In homes all over town, scores of additional readers turned pages with their family and friends, another way townspeople could participate. Readers sought pledges from family and friends using a pledge kit designed and produced by the Friends. All over town, residents read for some part of the 24-hour marathon – Harry Potter, suspense novels, town history, and The New York Times Book Review were among readers’ selections. Westhampton residents kept the reading going for 24 hours, from the afternoon of June 8 to the afternoon of June 9 – just in time for the start of the weekend’s second book celebration, Lounging for Literacy.
Lounging for Literacy gave Westhampton residents and friends another reason to read together. This community festival promoted literacy and demonstrated the community’s majority-support of The Town Center Library Project. It aimed to set a world record – organizers intended for it to be the world’s largest gathering of people in one location, reading books while lounging in lawn chairs. While the Guinness Book of World Records inexplicably does not include such a category, the hundreds of Westhampton neighbors and friends of Libraries near and far who gathered that day certainly could attest to the size and spirit of the gathering. Some readers dressed as their favorite book characters, one wore a straw hat covered in tiny volumes of favorite books, and some set up elaborate lounging areas for themselves and their neighbors. A newspaper photographer climbed into a cherry-picker to document the event. Together, everyone raised their books and cheered in celebration of this record-breaking and community-building day of reading with neighbors and friends. And then they got back to their books.
Planning & Implementation
A subset of the small Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library organization planned, publicized, and carried out these successful events. A committee planned programs for families, including storytelling, a community supper, a bonfire with support from the Westhampton Volunteer Fire Department, and a sing-along led by the town’s many guitar pickers and singers. Another group of Friends created pledge forms and sample letters, customized for adults and children, to encourage long-distance Read-Around-the-Clock pledges and donations from relatives and friends.
To generate awareness of and excitement about the events, the Friends issued a press release, followed up by contacting regional print and broadcast media outlets; communicated with The Guinness Book of World Records; designed promotional materials; and delivered posters and flyers to businesses, schools, and libraries across the region. They also spread the word via the town’s newsletter and the Friends’ own web site, designed and maintained by a member of the group. Local restaurants, businesses, farming families, and many residents showed their support by donating refreshments, tents, straw bales for seating, wood for the bonfire, a public-address system, and all other materials that made the day a success.
Individuals took on the task of securing door prizes and raffle donations – well-known authors and illustrators Eric Carle, Mordecai Gerstein, and Jacqueline Sheehan, all local residents, contributed their works or offered in-person readings to support the events. Local bookshops and learning stores donated gift certificates and prizes.
In short, both Read-Around-the-Clock and Lounging for Literacy truly were planned on a shoestring budget – all donations received from participants of both events went straight to The Town Center Library Project.
Pledges and donations related to Read-Around-the-Clock and Lounging for Literacy amounted to more than $14,000. Inspired by these events and other unique community fundraising events for The Town Center Library Project, an anonymous donor later came forth with a $150,000 matching gift to acknowledge the community’s commitment to the new library. This tremendous gift kept the fundraising momentum going.
In addition to those measurable results, the two events and related public relations efforts built significant awareness of the Friends’ fundraising campaign among Westhampton residents, readers, and library-lovers from around the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners recognized the events in its newsletter, circulated statewide, and several other libraries – including the Seattle Public Library – have contacted the Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library so they can emulate the events in their own cities and towns. The Friends group is now working with a pro-bono attorney to trademark the Read-Around-the-Clock and Lounging for Literacy names so the concepts may be shared with other libraries and Friends groups without losing the connection to the events’ Westhampton beginnings.
At the time the Baker & Taylor application was submitted in May 2008, the group was just $260,000 from its goal of raising approximately $700,000. Inspired by the community spirit and donations raised by Read-Around-the-Clock and Lounging for Literacy, the Friends of the Westhampton Memorial Library are planning additional creative and innovative fundraising festivals in 2008.
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Friends of the Abilene Public Library (Abilene, TX)
In both 1992 and 1997, voters in Abilene, Texas, turned down bond proposals to renovate their 42,000-square-foot library, which was built in 1959. In 1999, the library opened a South Branch in a leased facility, which was an overwhelming success, and quickly outgrew its 5,600-square-foot space. Yet in 2006, the library was denied a spot in the bond election for a proposal to build a permanent facility for the branch. For the Friends of the Abilene Public Library (FAPL), the question was: how can we get to yes?
Shortly after, a FAPL supporter and city council member brought together the library director, FAPL leaders, the city manager, mayor and city staff to convene a series of meetings to explore a different approach to expanding library facilities. The group revisited the Abilene Public Library 2004 Strategic Plan, as well as the recommendations of a 1997 Citizens Committee convened by the City Council, and decided the logical answer was to establish a branch library in the northwestern part of the town, an underserved area.
The FAPL overhauled its Board, electing eight new members, and, after a Board retreat, voted to adopt as a goal for the year the establishment of a North Branch Library, and a subsequent North Branch Committee. Pursuing another bond issue for an expansion of the Central Library would only be feasible, they decided, once the success of a North Branch as well as a South Branch had been demonstrated.
Using funds raised from FAPL annual book sales and the West Texas Book and Music Festival, FAPL proposed to pay two years rent on a leased facility, while pursuing grants and contributions for the furnishings and opening day collection. FAPL committed to give the city up to $115,000 in rent money, and through grant writing and solicitation, raise $594,000 for furnishings and the collection. The city of Abilene committed to pay all operating costs for the first two years, then assume all costs by year three. Just before the end of the year, FAPL met, and in fact, exceeded their goal, receiving more than $700,000 in pledges. Two planning initiative meetings were held so that local community members could give their thoughts about what they would like to see in their new North Branch library. The new Mockingbird Branch Library, in the northwestern part of Abilene, opened in January 2009.
The lessons learned, according to FAPL Past President and Project Chair Nancy C. Brock, were “collaborate with leaders from all avenues of your community who believe…engage your board to dream and put to action that dream…listen to dissenting opinions…talk with anyone who will listen…never forget that those who you hope to serve must have your ear, and must feel ownership.”
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Friends of the Ottawa Public Library Association (Ottawa, Canada)
When the City of Ottawa’s 2008 budget was proposed with a 0% increase, it had the potential to force the closure of 10 of 33 rural and suburban community branches of the Ottawa Public Library – in addition to layoffs for more than 60 library employees, cuts in the materials budget, and a reduction in hours for remaining branches.
Friends of Ottawa Public Library Association (FOPLA) took immediate action with an SOS campaign, “Save our Services,” to keep the nearly one-third of Ottawa Public Library branches from closing.
FOPLA put forth a “Save our Services” advocacy and community mobilization plan to prevent the branch closures, layoffs and service reductions. FOPLA conducted a media campaign, and contacted journalism students at local colleges to produce a number of news stories and media releases about the proposed closures.
In addition, FOPLA made presentations to city hall, contacted local schools and universities for support, started a Facebook group devoted to saving the libraries, crafted an online petition and an e-mail campaign, and distributed and collected “Save our Services” postcards addressed to city councilors and signed by community members. SOS campaign t-shirts and buttons were also printed and distributed, and residents wore them to city council meetings. FOPLA’s Web site provided information about the potential branch closures, loss of library jobs and reduction of hours.
Friends president Lori Nash called for “an end to the pattern of budget cuts that have been so damaging to the city’s library system” at an Ottawa City Council meeting. In a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen, she wrote that “Ottawa residents rely on the library for information, Internet access, access to public services, and a safe place to learn, gather, share and building community capacity… Library branches are at the heart of our community and they form the foundation for our city’s growth in a knowledge-based economy. We simply cannot afford to lose them.”
FOPLA and library supporters succeeded in preventing the budget cuts that would have resulted in 11 branch closures, layoffs and a reduction in hours. On Dec. 5, 2007, Mayor Larry O’Brien and a majority of city councilors issued a public Statement of Intent signifying that Ottawa City Council “will not choose to reduce or eliminate services to the most vulnerable members in this community.” The community response was strong, and the campaign not only prevented funding cuts, but ultimately increased awareness of the value of library services, and expanded the network of people ready to support and protect these services.
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