Libraries provide a wide range of free services to the public. But the cost isn’t free. And while tax dollars help, it is the work of Friends of the Library groups that supplements that source of revenue by backing individual programs, raising funds by holding book and bake sales and creating a strong reserve of volunteers. They also provide the foot soldiers when libraries go to referendum.
Their importance cannot be underestimated. Indeed, libraries seeking grant funds find it an advantage if they can show the support of Friends groups. Each year, their efforts are honored during National Friends of Libraries Week. From Oct. 21-27, the 13th annual celebration will be held, and two Friends groups will receive $250 each in honor of their celebrations.
Last year’s winners were the Friends of the Library of Rutherford (N.J.) and Friends of the San Juan Library. The Rutherford library hosted a Pet Photo Contest in which 98 photographs of dogs and cats were entered.
Friends used the opportunity to set up a table at the entrance and recruit new members, using a free candy bar to sweeten the deal. A mayoral proclamation framed and placed by the circulation attested to the vital role played by Friends in the community.
The celebration wasn’t confined to the library. The Friends took part in the Women’s Club of Rutherford’s Pumpkin People in the Park, with a pumpkin display that advertised the fall Book Sale.
The group also helped bring “Screenagers,” a documentary about a medical doctor concerned about the amount of time her teenage children were spending on electronic devices, to the library by enlisting local PTAs to help with the $650 cost of a screen license to show the film.
Seventy-five people attended the film, including teens, who took part in a discussion following the screening.
The San Juan Island Friends created a display with the theme “Our Library is the Heart of the island,” with a glass-enclosed cabinet showcases a variety of Friends activities. Like the Rutherford group, they offered enticements for new membership, including a $100 gift certificate to a local book store.
Library patrons were asked to fill out a card with the sentence “We Love Our Library Because…” The completed cards were attached to a poster board. The remaining activities consisted of a book swap that featured library games and refreshments. The swap was also the kickoff for the 2018 membership drive.
Friends also took one day to provide lunch for library staff, enabling them to grab soup and salad and take it back to their desks, in appreciation of their efforts. One day, Friends even handed out temporary tattoos to younger patrons that said “READ.”
This year’s celebration promises the same displays of creativity. At the Escanaba Public Library, Friends will hold a drawing for gift certificates to local businesses.
The Friends play a part in helping to fund library events that are not funded by the general operating budget. The money from the Friends have made it possible for the library to upgrade computer terminals and offer such services as Mango Languages.
In Kentucky, the Scott County Public Library plans a book sale, a movie night with a screening of Stephen King’s “It,” and a meeting of the Classics book club, which is reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” appropriate for the Halloween season.
United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), provides online resources for Friends groups, including a guide for successful library advocacy and free toolkits. One can also find promotional materials for download through the ALA Store.