Public Library Friends Group with Assistance from Paid Staff
Public Library Friends Group without Assistance from Paid Staff
Friends of the Johnson County (Kan.) Library
The Friends of the Johnson County Library won for their group’s overall activities on behalf of the library in 2009. The group’s tremendous efforts in the areas of fundraising, advocacy, working in partnership with the library and Foundation, raising awareness, creating innovative projects, collaborating on a new newsletter, book sales, and leadership earned it a Baker & Taylor Award.
In 2009, the Friends had a budget of $269,000, but the group’s final income that year was 30% more — $348,994. This success is emblematic of the Friends’ organizational maturity and broad capacity. With more than 1,000 members, the Friends has strong board leadership, an effective working structure, and a long reach in the community.
Advocacy Committee: The Community Speaks
As the recession hit in 2009, the Friends’ advocacy committee met several times with County Librarian Donna Lauffer to strategize, and then sprang into action. During the 2010 budget process, the advocacy committee and Friends board members wrote letters to the county commissioners, expressing concern about possible budget cuts. At the commission budget hearing, Friends President Vickie Trott spoke on behalf of the library, along with library board members, as Friends members sat on the front row of the hearing room, wearing pink library Friends buttons. Thanks in part to these efforts, the library was able to achieve a 2010 budget of $25,014,233 — slightly increasing its mill levy.
Tell Us a Story, a 2009 initiative, invited library patrons to write a short story of testimonials about their library experiences. Responses were compiled into “Why the Library Matters,” a booklet presented to the board of county commissioners during National Library Week in April, and later to the state legislators at a legislative breakfast. It was also sent to the staff at each library, along with a letter of appreciation from the Friends.
The advocacy committee and other Friends members attended the Kansas Library Association’s 2009 Legislative Day in February, sent e-mails and made calls to legislators about library funding issues, and hosted a Library Legislative Breakfast in Johnson County in November.
During National Library Week in April and National Friends of Library Week in October, Friends President Vickie Trott wrote letters to the editor, which were published in two newspapers. The letters discussed the importance of libraries during difficult economic times when library usage increases, as well as the supporting role of the Friends.
The Friends’ Bookmark Design Contest, held annually during National Library Week in April, recognized 10 winners (preschool to adult) chosen from more than 500 entries. Awards were presented at the April library board meeting, along with the full-color bookmarks, which were distributed in the 13 library facilities.
In 2008, the Friends and Foundation both issued small, two-color, semi-annual newsletters with library highlights, but the library itself had no print newsletter. Collaborating to fund a larger, full-color newsletter shared by the library, the Friends and Foundation agreed to pay for printing and mailing. Experience Johnson County Library, launched in winter 2009, is published three times a year and creates a unified message and image, underscoring that all three organizations work together to forward the library and its services.
Fundraising through Booksales
The Friends’ 2009 income of $348,994 came mostly from selling weeded library books and donated books, via two used bookstores, one large and five mini-booksales, and online book sales. Remaining revenues were from memberships, donations, and sale of Friends book bags.
Overseeing these operations are four paid, part-time staff members — a business manager/online book sales manager, an operations manager, and two assistants. An operations oversight committee manages these functions. The operations manager and assistants train 102 sorters and book store volunteer clerks from a procedures manual. In addition, 313 volunteers helped with the 2009 giant summer sale that earned more than $80,000, and periodic mini-booksales. Total overhead expenses are $113,000, including salaries.
From its revenue, the Friends contributed $180,000 to the Johnson County Library in 2009 — all of it unrestricted. With that funding, the library supported its summer reading clubs, volunteer recognition event, adult programs, receptions, purchase of library materials, and a tile wall mural — plus strategic initiatives such as a library leadership development program and 13 digital screens for in-library marketing. In addition, the Friends contributed to the Johnson County Library Foundation.
Leadership and Influence
The Friends group demonstrates a leadership role in the state, making modest grants to small libraries in its area, hosting fact-finding visitors in its operations, and making presentations at library conferences about its successful model. Cognizant of this role, the Friends leaders advise other groups to ask their libraries, “How can we help?”
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Friends of the Seattle (Wash.) Public Library
Like most public libraries across the nation, the Seattle Public Library has faced extreme budget cuts during the current economic climate. Understanding the possibility of looming budget reductions in early 2009, the Friends of the Seattle Public Library went to work to try to mitigate the cuts. Rather than wait for the fall budget season to garner community support for the library, the Friends plotted out a year-round advocacy plan to educate the city council and the mayor on the value of the library, and build a base of support across the city, collecting thousands of supporters along the way.
To educate the Seattle city council and mayor on the many ways the library adds value to the community, the Friends developed “NewsFlash” e-mails. Starting in April 2009, one-page monthly e-mails sent to the council and mayor focused on the following topics:
The increased use of libraries, particularly in a down economy;
How free access to computers and job resources helps the community get back to work;
How the library is engaging teens via its Teen Center Advisors group;
How libraries are assets to city neighborhoods;
How libraries and schools work together to foster education.
To educate the community and start building support for the library, the Friends created its own blog and used social networking sits such as Facebook. The Friends’ blog not only feature information on the budget, but also included similar “NewsFlash” postings, as well as personal stories and testimonies from local library users. The Friends soon made contact with several neighborhood blogs across the city that posted stories and articles of support for the library and directed readers to the Friends’ blog for more information on ways to show support.
As soon as the Friends started its Facebook page, the number of fans grew quickly to nearly 800 people. The Facebook page because invaluable when the Friends started a petition asking members to sign the following statement: “The Seattle Public Library system is an essential and indispensible resource for all Seattle residents and we oppose any closure or other reduction of our access to the library.” Between the Facebook petition and gathering signatures in person, the Friends presented more than 2,000 signatures at a budget hearing in October 2009 to the mayor and city council in support of the library.
Wanting some quantitative information to pass along to the city council and mayor regarding the community’s sense of value of their libraries, the Friends developed an online survey that the group posted on its website, blog, and Facebook page. Some board members also made personal phone calls to community and business leaders to gather responses to the survey in person, In all, the group received more than 700 responses to the survey, posted the findings on the blog, and presented the findings in a report to the mayor and city council.
Throughout the year, the Friends kept library supporters updated with budget and library information by sending out “Advocacy News” e-mails. Similar to the “NewsFlash” e-mails, much of the content was educational. As the year progressed and budget information was made available, the Friends sent e-mails to their advocacy list specifically about the city’s budget and how the library might be affected. The group also provided clear and simple ways supporters could show their elected officials how important the new library is to them personally. By the fall budget season, the Friends group had built its e-mail advocacy list to more than 3,000 members.
In September 2009, the mayor announced his city budget for 2010, proposing a $2.8 million cut to the library, meaning a drastic reduction in library service for the community. The city council then had a month to make its decision on the mayor’s proposed budget. By this time, thanks to the efforts of the Friends, the council had been inundated with calls, letters, and e-mails of community support for the library. In addition, Friends board Trustees and members attended city council budget hearings to sign their name in support and give personal testimony. The Friends group bolstered its advocacy efforts during budget season by teaming up with members of the Seattle Public Library Foundation board. The Friends group shared its key advocacy messages, recruited Foundation board members to testify at budget hearings, and held several strategic planning meetings with a core group of the Foundation board to ensure the most was being made of their strong collaboration.
In the end, the Seattle city council came back to the mayor with a unanimous agreement to add $860,000 back to the library’s budget, allowing several neighborhood branch libraries to operate on a 60-hour/week schedule rather than the originally proposed 35-hour/week schedule. The Seattle city council decided to hold a press conference at the downtown central library to announce its decision, with several council members commenting on the overwhelming show of community support for the library.
While the Seattle Public Library, like libraries across the nation, continue to struggle with budget challenges, the Friends of the Seattle Public Library has become an invaluable volunteer group, not only to educate and provide awareness on the value of libraries, but also to give library staff and administration the encouragement and community support needed when faced with challenging times.
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Friends of the Nederland (Colo.) Community Library
Ever since 2003, when a six-inch spring snowfall collapsed the roof of the Nederland Community Library’s first temporary location in a community center, the Friends and Foundation of the Nederland Community Library has been raising funds to build a new, permanent home. The library quickly outgrew two more temporary locations, the latest an 1,800-square-foot bay in the small town’s shopping center. In 2008, the library persuaded the town of Nederland to vacate an unused town roadway, purchased a small, adjacent property, and prepared to mount a campaign for its own building.
But the timing was poor. The recession hit, and major donors disappeared. Together with the Nederland Community Library District board of directors, the Friends and Foundation decided to go for a $1.9 million general obligation bond.
In early 2009, the Friends and Foundation reactivated a facility planning committee with members of both the library district and Friends/Foundation boards. This group conducted a well-advertised RFP for both an architect and an owners’ representative firm. Once hired, these professionals guided several public meetings to ascertain features desired by library patrons. They then created a concept design. The concept drawings were displayed in the local shopping center window for all to see.
Building size (4,800 square feet), design, and construction cost determined the goal of $1.9 million. The two boards began to hold joint monthly meetings to ensure good communication and coordination. They sought the expert assistance of a investment banker who handled the county’s bond sales. He educated and guided the group through the intricacies of selling a bond.
Next, the board selected two members to serve as co-chairs of creating and leading a strategic, coordinated campaign to persuade library district voters to approve the bond in November 2009. The co-chairs invited both board and community members to serve on the campaign committee.
The campaign committee designed a coordinated campaign to include, inform, and motivate library district voters to approve the bond. The campaign strategy included a community survey; a website with building concept drawings; tri-fold brochures; yard signs; articles, advertisements, and letters to the editor; posters; e-newsletters; flyers; campaign postcards; distributing coffee and muffins with campaign materials at the local park and ride; neighborhood coffees; library card applications distribution to children at the local elementary school; and volunteer outreach in the community.
The campaign brochure featured the beloved cartoon characters of local artist/newspaper cartoonist George Blevins, including mountain people, a moose, an owl, and a bear. The building’s green energy features generated community support and excitement. Volunteers demonstrated creativity, devotion, and enthusiasm by handing out coffee and campaign materials to bus commuters one October morning when the wind chill was -20 degrees.
The library and Friends boards insisted on hiring local, qualified subcontractors to construct the new building, and involving local artists/artisans in creating installations such as wrought iron railings, an interior gate, and stained glass. Rock for exterior walls will be locally sourced from nearly historic Caribou silver and gold mine.
Community and volunteer involvement
Community members volunteered to serve on the library facility committee, which is overseeing the building construction. Several community members also assisted with bond campaign activities. Community members wrote letters to the editor in support of the bond. Local business owners supported the campaign by hosting community meetings.
The Friends organized several public meetings, conducted by the architect and owner’s rep, to elicit community involvement in the building plans. Friends volunteers spoke to local groups, such as the Nederland Area Seniors, Lions, and Rotary Clubs. Volunteers discussed the new library with classes at the local elementary school and distributed library card applications, resulting in more than 100 new young patrons.
Both the $1.9 million bond issue and related mill levy increase issue were approved by library district voters on election day in November 2009. The mill levy increase issue passed 51.59% to 48.31%, and the $1.9 million bond issue passed 50.26% to 49.74%.
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Friends of the Castro Valley (Calif.) Library
In 2009, the Friends of the Castro Valley Library underwent a remarkable transition from a small but dedicated group of people to a newly committed all-volunteer organization, now operating a very successful bookstore and office, and with a revised and enhanced organizational structure, a new and improved Circle of Friends newsletter, and greater involvement with library programs.
Opening day of the new Castro Valley Library, Oct. 31, 2009, represented the culmination of a 20-year dream of a new library for the community of Castro Valley, Calif. The branch library of the Alameda County Library System moved 0.7 miles to a new, modern facility after years of dreaming, planning, and construction. The Friends of the Castro Valley Library were an integral part of the process, supporting the library’s programs and staff for more than 20 years. Our fundraising efforts were traditional – two book sales per year and sales from a small cart in the library – but they provided support of up to $10,000 per year and major contributions of more than $55,000 to the new library
The new library represented a new way of “doing things” for the Friends – transitioning from a relatively modest fundraising group to a broad-based volunteer group opening and operating a 2,800+ volume bookstore and office on a daily basis, in addition to the traditional multi-day weekend sales. A transition committee of six volunteers spent the early months of 2009 planning for the change – visiting other area Friends’ bookstores, planning for and writing an operations manual for the bookstore and office; developing a volunteer coordination scenario, working with the county library system to create the system’s first-of-a-kind memorandum of understanding between the Friends and the Castro Valley branch library, revising the Friends by-laws to better reflect the new beginnings, and developing plans for the move into their new facilities.
The Friends developed and implemented a volunteer training workshop for all volunteers aspiring to work in the bookstore. Two members of the Friends trained 30 people in the 10 days prior to opening, and an additional 21 volunteers were trained after opening.
Two weeks prior to the opening of the library, the Friends gained the first access to the new facilities – the “office,” a bare room with shelving and a table, and the “bookstore,” consisting of a set of moveable shelving with a capacity of more than 2,500 books. A small, very dedicated group of volunteers organized the entire facility, established shelving patterns, brought in more than 3,000 books from storage units four miles away, processed (vetted, cleaned, and categorized) all the books for the sale in the bookstore and on temporary shelving in the office, and even organized the office. By Oct. 31, the Friends group was ready for the grand opening.
The Friends group was an integral part of the “Great Book Pass” of more than 350 books of all kinds along a route through downtown Castro Valley from the old library to the new library. The theme of the event was “20 Years to go 7/10 of a Mile.” The Great Book Pass involved more than 1,500 members of the Castro Valley Community – adults, children, families, youth groups, etc. – to pass the books one-by-one along the busy route, making the transition from the “old” to the “new.”
The Friends provided each hardcover, dust-jacketed book in the Great Book Pass with a special commemorative bookplate inside the cover, and started and finished the passage of the books from “old” boxes to “new” shelving in the bookstore, where they were later sold to commemorate the day. The Great Book Pass was a success due to the cooperation of the community: the Friends, the library staff, the California Highway Patrol, the Alameda County Sheriff and Fire Department, Alameda County staff members, the Sanitary District, the merchants along the way, and the 1,500+ people who participated. All participants received a t-shirt commemorating the event. After the book pass, and while waiting for the opening ceremonies to begin, refreshments were provided by volunteers from the Friends.
Shortly after noon, the library opened to the public for the first time, and more than 3,500 visited that afternoon. Many came to the bookstore before going into the library. The bookstore made nearly $1,000 in sales.
Since the opening of the library, the Friends of Castro Valley Library has been working in close conjunction with the branch librarian, Carolyn Moskovitz, and her staff to provide additional funding for library and staff needs, new programs, and to plan for the future. The bookstore and office are open at least 25 hours a week, staffed by a minimum of two volunteers per shift, and processing a large number of donations. The Friends have enjoyed much greater visibility in the community, both for the quality of books available in the bookstore and friendliness of volunteers, but also for encouraging people to because members and volunteers. The bookstore generated more than $15,000 by April 2010.
While the group’s activities in 2009 were directed primarily at the opening of the new library, the Friends still managed to have a “traditional” weekend booksale in March near the old library, and another weekend sale in December in the community room of the new library. These sales added an additional $5,100 to the Friends’ income.
In addition, members of the Friends of the Castro Valley Library have been, over the past four years, a guiding force for the Friends of the Libraries of Alameda County, a twice-yearly gathering of Friends groups from the 14 city and county libraries, to discuss common issues and solutions.
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Friends of the Fitchburg (Wisc.) Library
The Friends of the Fitchburg Library is unique in that the Friends group existed before a library did. Fitchburg, population 22,500, is the largest city in Wisconsin without its own library. Although more than 10,500 Fitchburg residents have library cards for use in other cities, the only local library service is a bookmobile available five hours a week.
In response to a need identified by community leaders to expand and improve library services and several failed attempts over the last 20 years, the major formed an ad hoc committee to explore potential building sites, designs, and costs. A library Board of Trustees was appointed, and the mayor and city council moved the issue of building a library to a referendum. It was at this point that six area residents decided to form the Friends of the Fitchburg Library (FOFL).
The group met in a coffee shop to map out a strategy. It was an unusual and unprecedented move to start a Friends group before there was a library. The group, which had no members with library experience, began a grassroots movement, without a librarian to guide it. The goal was to increase awareness of what a library could mean to the entire community. A suburb of Madison, Wisc., Fitchburg does not have a downtown area, gathering space, school district, or post office. It became apparent that the library would meet many needs, not just those often attributed to a library. The Friends’ vision included creating a sense of community for the city.
Initial monetary resources were obtained by approaching the Community Economic Development Authority in Fitchburg. The Friends incorporated in Wisconsin as a non-profit, and applied for and received IRS status as a 501(c)(3) organization. The group registered with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing as a charitable organization, then got down to work.
The goal was to give the city of Fitchburg a snapshot of how a library would benefit the entire community. To educate residents, the Friends develop a 10-point plan and put it into action:
The Friends leased space across from city hall to hold booksales and other events. The site became a visible cornerstone of the movement.
To solicit used book donations for the store, the Friends placed drop bins throughout the community, which were checked and emptied weekly. The bins also advertised the used book sales, held on the third Saturday of each month.
A website, friendsoffitchburglibrary.com, was created to publicize events, recruit volunteers, solicit contributions, give recognition to corporate partners, and give information on the library.
A tri-fold brochure was mailed to every household in Fitchburg. The brochure, titled “Now is the time,” described what a library could do for Fitchburg. It also had information on the Friends and a tear-off for contributing and volunteering. The back of the brochure had facts about library use and the Fitchburg community.
Author events and musical programs were held at the space near city hall to further engage the community. The Friends also opened the space to book clubs and other community organizations.
The Friends did outreach to some of the underserved areas of the city by holding Halloween parties for children and families. To promote lifelong learning, the events always included book giveaways. In the area where the population was mostly Spanish-speaking, the book giveaways included children’s books in Spanish and Spanish-English dictionaries. More than 2,000 bookmarks were distributed through local schools to advertise that the Friends would provide one free book to all children at the summer book sales.
The Friends ran a question-and-answer column in the local biweekly newspaper that gave information on the proposed library and the benefit to the community. Talking points were developed for volunteers.
At the used booksales, the Friends held storytimes and offered craft projects for preschool- and elementary-aged children. Multi-use book bags with the Friends’ logo were also sold at the sales.
To increase visibility, the Friends maintained a presence at the summer farmers’ market and monthly musical concerts in the city’s largest park. T-shirts were given to volunteers with the Friends’ logo and website. Bookmarks with library information and other promotional materials were available as well as book giveaways for children.
The Friends taped a presentation for the local access television channel to give residents information on the benefits a library would bring to the community. The presentation ran for several weeks.
As a result of these efforts, an advisory referendum passed, and in 2009, the city council approved the construction of a library. An interim librarian was hired to guide the building process. The Friends of the Fitchburg Library continues to “stand in the shoes” of the library until it opens in 2011. In addition to selling used books, the Friends group holds author events, co-hosts the summer reading program, participates in library planning and fundraising, and does community outreach.
The active Friends list now includes nearly 100 dedicated volunteers who give their time and financial support to the organization. In spring 2011, the city of Fitchburg will celebrate the grand opening of its new library, where the city will gather, connect, and learn.
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