Successful Friends Groups

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by Laura Birmingham, Indian Prairie Public Library

Originally published in the Metropolitan Library System’s MLS   E-nnounce on October 7, 2009 in vol. 3, iss. 19

Since my start at Indian Prairie in the role of Assistant Director, I have served as the liaison to the library’s Friends group. The Friends of the Indian Prairie Public Library has been in existence since the library formed in 1996.  They meet the second Tuesday of each month at 1:30 p.m. and hold an annual meeting held on the second Tuesday in January, where election of officers takes place.  To join their Friends they have a membership form (PDF) and dues which range from $5 for an individual to $100 for lifetime membership.

I have been regularly attending the monthly Friends meetings and assisting in their various fundraising projects since 2000.  I have also served as treasurer and acting secretary. This past May, the president of the Friends, who had served for 13 years, decided to step down from her leadership role and pursue other interests.  This left me to step up and serve as president.  It has been an interesting addition to my job duties.

The Friends are an important part of the Indian Prairie Public Library. They not only raise money for the library, but they are also a great volunteer corps.  They host concerts and programs, sort endless book donations, and lend a helping hand whenever needed. The Friends are our greatest advocates – they love the library and work hard because they want to.  But most importantly, they tell friends, neighbors, community organizations, and family members all about the library!

As fundraisers, the Friends have several efforts that keep money coming in.  There is an ongoing book sale in the library’s lobby, which the Friends sort and stock daily.  This brings in approximately $1,000 a month.  In addition, there is a larger Annual Book Sale which typically generates around $3,000.  The Friends participate in Jewel Shop and Share Days, Buona Benefit Days, sell reusable “green” bags, and sell Entertainment Books every fall.

The Friends provide funding for  many “ongoing” expenses such as incentives for summer reading programs, an annual motion picture license, refreshments for movie nights, Lyric Opera series, and holiday poinsettias to name a few.  They have also purchased furnishing and equipment such as shelving and several generations of CD/DVD cleaning and repair machines.

We recently had our first-ever Friends Mixer to raise awareness about the Friends and get new members. It was simple, but effective.  Several of our current Friends members set up a table with refreshments (provided by the members) in the lobby at the front doors and greeted people as they came in. We ran a “membership special” to those who signed up –a Friends bag with every membership.  The mixer was a big hit – we ended up getting 25 new members!  And better yet, since the mixer, new faces have appeared at our monthly Friends meetings.

Although the Friends have over 75 annual members, only a handful attend the meetings.  Although we have tried meeting at different times of the day, the same dedicated 10 members attend every meeting. 

One of my goals as president this year is to develop the Friends as a formal advocacy group.   In short, my “vision” is to train the Friends to be library advocates; they would be “experts” on all the services and programs the library has to offer and they would represent the library at community events.  With a strong group of advocates promoting the library, we may be able to reach out better to our patrons.

Indian Prairie Public Library is lucky to have such a dedicated group of Friends and we are truly grateful for their support, both personal and financial and otherwise.

Questions about this article can be sent to Laura Birmingham at

Laura Birmingham is the Assistant Director at the Indian Prairie Public Library. She holds a Masters degree in Library Science from Dominican University, River Forest, IL, and a Bachelor’s in English Lit from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN. While her passion as a kid was to be a private detective when she grew up, she has worked in libraries her entire life. Prior to joining the Indian Prairie Public Library in 2000 she worked at the La Grange Park Public Library and at the DePaul University Law Library.