Public Library Friends Group with Assistance from Paid Staff
- Friends of the Princeton (N.J.) Public Library
- Friends of the Salt Lake City (Utah) Public Library
Public Library Friends Group without Assistance from Paid Staff
- Friends of the Carpinteria (Calif.) Library
Friends of the Princeton (N.J.) Public Library
The year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Friends of the Princeton Public Library. The Friends won for the group’s overall activities on behalf of the library in 2010, including supporting the centennial celebration, creating sustainable sources of income, and advocating on behalf of the library.
The Princeton Public Library is well-supported financially due to a mix of private and public funding; by longstanding agreement, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township provide tax support for the library’s operations (salaries, buildings and groups, and general operating expenses); however, there is no municipal support for the purchase of library materials, library programming, or staff development.
Every year, the library fills the funding gap of approximately $1 million annually through a combination of fees, grants, contributions from the Friends of the Library, an annual appeal, endowment income, and revenues from several library-hosted “businesses,” such as a library café and used bookstore.
The library funds its entire $350,000 materials and programming budget from gifts, fees, and donations. No gifts means no books. Library staff begins each year worried that shelves might become depleted — not a good situation for a library of any type or size. The library relies on the Friends to help close the operating budget each year. In the last 10 years, the Friends have increased their annual gift to the library from $100,000 to more than $300,000. In addition, the Friends have made one-time gifts of $100,000 for an opening day collection, $100,000 to a capital campaign, and $100,000 to an endowment campaign.
In 2010, the major accomplishments of the Friends were supporting the centennial gala, transforming the group’s store, and conducting an extremely successful annual appeal.
The Friends organized the library’s 100th birthday gala, attracting more than 500 people to an event that earned a profit of $225,000. The event featured a talk by Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, followed by cocktails, dinner, and dancing in the library. The auction event, In Their Own Hands, featured handwritten passages from authors and celebrities associated with Princeton, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Graves, John Lithgow, Ann M. Martin, and Toni Morrison. These one-of-a-kind items were framed and sold during a silent auction. A major effort to secure corporate underwriting for this event covered almost all expenses, so that all funds raised though ticket sales and the auction were profit.
When the library opened a new building in 2004, it allocated highly visible, prime space on the main floor for a library store to be managed and staffed by Friends of the Princeton Public Library. It was envisioned as a “reader’s boutique” with unique gift items to appeal to readers of all ages, run entirely by a group of volunteer staff and managed by a part-time buyer. Initially the store did well, but sales dwindled, then slowed considerably. In 2009, it became apparent that the effects of the recession had taken a toll, and the store would need to close or suffer significant losses. A “going out of business” sale liquidated most of the merchandise. The store was then officially closed, and the question became what to do with the vacated space.
The answer was right before their eyes. For years the Friends of the Library had run a modest used book sale in the library, occupying a small amount of shelf space. Savvy shoppers had to be “in the know” to find the space, which was somewhat hidden from public view. Donated items made their way onto the shelves, where they appeared in random order. Monthly revenue from the sale ranged from $1,800 to $2,000.
It was decided that the used book sale would be transformed from an afterthought to a central part of the library experience by moving it to the former store space. The move quadrupled the amount of space for inventory, provided high visibility, allowed for categorization of materials by genre, and provided a pleasant browsing experience for shoppers. The Friends changed the signage, used colorful displays, and added a few seats.
The results were amazing to the Friends. In the first month, sales went from $2,000 to $4,500. In the ensuing months, sales continued to climb, averaging $5,700 per month, an amount exceeding the annual store sales profit. Sales remained strong through 2010. There was a 50% increase in sales from the previous year, and year-to-date sales in 2011 are up another 26%. In addition, donations of used books to the library increased. Though Friends-run bookstores are not a new idea, it is unique that the Friends were able to take what some considered the failure associated with closing the gift store and repurpose the space in an innovative way to create a new profit center for the library. Moving from $5,000 in annual sales to $70,000 in annual sales was a big achievement, all done with a dedicated group of 20 volunteers.
The Friends rounded out their fundraising efforts with an annual appeal sent at year’s end to current and lapsed Friends, as well as frequent library users. Donations of $100 or more include benefits like the library’s quarterly program guide, Connections, discounts to the Friends books sale, and free preview admission to the annual sale, and advanced notice for invitations to special events. The appeal raises approximately $140,000 annually and yields 900 members.
Friends of the Salt Lake City (Utah) Public Library
The Friends of the Salt Lake City Public Library won for their overall activities on behalf of the library in 2010, including financial contributions, book sales, The Library Store, Buddies of the Library, Best Beginnings, membership, a 50th anniversary celebration, and community involvement.
During the calendar year 2010, the Friends contributed a total of $143,439 to the Salt Lake City Public Library system. Of this total, the library used $29,355 for the Library Goes Forth, Utah Book Awards, MLS scholarships, staff education, and staff development day, all of which represent programs that the Friends support on an annual basis. In addition, $5,206 covered a city-wide mailing of the fall edition of The City Library News, and $1,290 paid for the production of Music at Main, a CD of local artists’ performances at Library Square.
Book sales account for the majority of funds raised by the Friends. In 2010, the Friends held two semi-annual full-scale sales, a December special price sale, a summer sale at a farmer’s market, and continuous book sales though The Friends Store, including books for special events such as the Little Golden Books Art show, a Jane Austen promotion, and promotion for library speakers’ books. Revenue from these sales was approximately $100,000.
At the end of the semi-annual sale, free books were given to 22 nonprofit organizations, including charter schools, public schools, the county jail, the homeless shelter, and the volunteer center at the University of Utah.
A recent project has been to sell more expensive books through Amazon. In 2010, in addition to the regular sales, 1,418 books were sold for $44,581.14. Eight dedicated volunteers spend approximately 200 hours each month scanning, listing, and packing the books. Books are also funneled to the city library’s special collections and the University of Utah Library, whose staff either purchases or sells for the Friends rare books. A local rare book dealer has also purchased several hundreds of dollars worth of books.
The Library Store, operated by the Friends, sells Friends memberships in addition to books and unusual merchandise. The store also hosts a writers’ workshop on how to write and publish a novel. Each December, along with seven other retail tenants at Library Square, the store sponsors a large holiday celebration, Literary Luminaries, a day of special guests, children’s activities, workshops, and literary characters played by volunteers and staff. In December 2010, the event was A Day in Wonderland with Alice.
Thirty volunteers currently work at the store. They donate approximately 250 hours per month and are trained to do all the tasks in the store — sales, cleaning, receiving and labeling merchandise, and preparing displays. The store pays the salaries and benefits for one full-time and one ¾-time employee.
In 2010, the Friends initiated Buddies of the Library, a new program in support of the library’s strategic plan on early childhood literacy. The program invites Kindergarten students from the 16 local Title I schools to neighborhood libraries. The students have a tour of the library, a puppet show, story time, and free time to explore the children’s library. The children’s librarians are instrumental in the success of the program — they conduct the tours and the story times. Two Friends board members talk to the students about the importance of reading and using the libraries. Each student receives a new book with a name plate. Approximately 1,000 students participated in the program.
The year 2010 was also the first full year of another new project of the Friends, Best Beginnings, which supports early childhood literacy. Eighty-five volunteers assembled kits that are given to all the new parents in each of the three city hospitals. Two thousands kits were distributed in 2010.
The Friends membership committee has three board members who duties are to staff the membership table at all booksales and process memberships. In 2010 the income from approximately 500 memberships was $10,150, which included 42 $100 memberships. The store staff also sells and process membership applications throughout the year.
A highlight of 2010 was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Friends. The event was advertised via posters and banners, radio spots, newspaper coverage, bookmarks, and postcards. A public reception was held for Scott Simon, NPR’s Weekend Edition host and author. A video presentation featuring community leaders expressing congratulations and appreciation to the Friends was shown at the reception and at the beginning of Simon’s lecture.
Friends of the Carpinteria (Calif.) Library
Carpenteria Branch Library, the first branch library to open in Southern California, turned 100 on Nov. 8, 2010. Early in the year, the Friends of the Carpinteria Branch Library recognized this anniversary as a unique opportunity to pay homage to the library’s century of success, and to look ahead to its future as a vital community resource. A centennial event would need to celebrate literature, bring together the community, foster awareness, and raise funds for a plan to renovate the aging facility.
Friends board member Lea Boyd suggested the group ask local artists to design and create covers for books that played an important role in their lives. The decorated books could be sold in a silent auction as part of a gala event to be held in early November. The Friends quickly formed a centennial committee and prepared to locate and contact artists. Each artist received a detailed letter, as well as a call from one of the committee members.
Thirty-five artists committed to participating. The Friends offered to supply hardcover copies of the titles they chose, and approximately 25 artists requested them. Scouring the internet with the assistance of bookfinder.com, the Friends filled each request, and most titles cost less than $5. The Friends even located a few of the books at their own Friends bookstore.
While the artists worked on their creations, the committee, with a budget of $2,000, designed, printed, hand addressed, and mailed 500 invitations. The Friends asked local merchants to donate food and beverages for the celebration. The group also looked for a suitable place to hold the event. Several years before the Carpinteria Library became part of the Santa Barbara County Public Library System, the Carpinteria Woman’s Club, a group dedicated to increasing local literacy, opened the town’s original library. Thanks to the current members of the Woman’s Club, the branch library’s 100th anniversary would be celebrated at their Clubhouse, yet another expression of the club’s continued commitment to their local library.
As weeks went by, the artists completed and gave their handcrafted pieces to be auctioned at the centennial event. Works included painted canvas book covers, multimedia assemblage, artistically altered pages, graphic art images, paper collages, trompe l’oeil covers, large traditional canvases with the book creatively incorporated, basketry, quilting, pastels, and photographs. Titles ranged from Madame Bovary to Where the Sidewalk Ends. Each work was as unique and universal as the book it honored.
The committee asked the artists to provide short statements to be included in the event’s program. These statements provided a connection between the artist, the art piece, and, ultimately, the buyer. They contained precious insight into the meaning of the books and to the artists’ lives.
As the centennial drew close and the art pieces came in, the Friends continued to publicize and prepare for the celebration. The Woman’s Club facility is cozy, but has a large enclosed garden area, so people could be either inside or outside. Drinks were available on the patio. Two large food tables were planned at one side of the meeting room with the art displayed at the other. The decorations could be simple autumn fruits and flowers.
Soon Friends board members received their assignments for the big day — collecting tickets/money, watching over the auction, hosting, cleaning up, etc. To increase the fundraising potential, the Friends signed up for a QuickBooks account that allowed for credit card purchases.
Thanks to the support of the community, the committee managed to deliver the centennial on a shoestring budget. The milestone celebration caused a wonderful ripple effect in the town. In addition to efforts by local artists and Friends volunteers, local businesses provided generous support, donating food, beverages, printing services, decorations, and advertising.
On Nov. 6, 2010, despite their being a chance of rain, approximately 200 people attended the centennial celebration, bidding in a silent auction on the literary art pieces and learning about future plans for the library. Nearly $10,000 was raised for the library’s renovation through the sale of tickets and the auction of the art works. Perhaps as significant as the money raised is that the celebration knit together artists, library supporters, elected officials, and residents of all ages and backgrounds, coming together in support of the library.
As the Friends group goes forward with plans to improve and expand the library, it is counting on the powerful sense of togetherness that developed around the centennial. Not only did the public celebration serve as a reminder of the library’s importance in the community (population 14,000), it also drew attention to its potential, cultivating awareness that transcends political partisanship and offers benefits that everyone can support. Carpinterians opened their eyes and their wallets in recognition of an asset that requires community support to survive and thrive, especially in a difficult economy and under changing demands.