How important are Friends groups? They can literally make the difference between a budget increase and cut for their libraries. Since the beginning of the American library movement, Friends groups have been formed by citizens using their collective powers to do everything from running a book sale to ensuring that our American library legacy remains viable. By contributing as a library Friend, you can make a lasting difference for your library.
Join Your Local Friends Group
Does your local library have a Friends group? Talk to your local librarian to find out if it does, and learn what kinds of efforts the Friends group takes on. Tasks range from hosting book sales, bake sales or fundraising efforts to voicing support for the library by attending town hall meetings and city councll meetings, or just spreading the word about the great services and value the library brings to your community. ALA's United for Libraries division offers an electronic discussion list for Friends where friends from all types of libraries discuss topics such as book sale strategies, fundraising ideas, membership drives, and more.
Ideas for Established Friends Groups
Once your group is up and running, make sure it stays active and vibrant via fundraising, networking, and other general advocacy efforts.
Plan Fundraising Campaigns
It’s important to network and form partnerships that will make your Friends group stronger. Here’s how.
Conduct Savvy Planned Giving:
Charitable gift planning is the process of cultivating, facilitating and stewarding long-term gifts to charitable organizations. Libraries and foundations should offer information on making planned gifts and ensure donors are aware that they are able and willing to accept planned gifts.
Ask Library-Friendly Local Politicians to Help:
They may be willing to endorse your campaign or help to influence other decision-makers. Don’t forget potential candidates for office—they may want to include pro-library issues in their campaign message. They should know that the Friends have broad reach and that they vote!
After Each Campaign or Effort, Evaluate Outcomes:
Were you successful? What worked, what didn’t? What would you do differently? Begin thinking about future goals, based on what you learned.
Network and Strategize
Library advocacy doesn't happen in a vacuum. Make sure library issues are visible in your community and make contact with local and state representatives, the media, and other decision-makers.
Communicate Your Story:
For example, form a communications task force to work with the local media or develop a one-page fact sheet as a hand-out. For a large campaign with a lot at stake, consider hiring a professional public relations firm to help highlight the campaign. If you can’t afford this, ask for pro bono help.
Establish Permanent Contacts with Your Local Decision-Makers:
The personal touch is very important for the long-term support of your library. For more information about networking with local notables, you can consult, “Making Our Voices Heard: Citizens Speak Out for Libraries,” a CD-ROM and workbook available from United for Libraries.
For additional information about how to advocate for your library, the breakthrough book “Even More Great Ideas for Libraries and Friends” is available for purchase on the United for Libraries website.
Friends of Libraries groups that are visible in the community and on campus increase their ability to raise money and profile for the library. The fundraising environment is competitive, so it’s important to keep the good work your group and library are doing “on the public’s radar ” by sitting on your community’s notable boards and associations, nurturing media contacts, and participating in civic groups.
Form a Friends Foundation:
The main reason to form a foundation is to create a significant funding source that is separate and distinct from the regulations and restrictions that apply to governmental institutions. A foundation can establish its own rules, buy equipment or provide services for the library without regard to competitive bidding, committee approvals, etc. The library Friends group and the library Foundation are usually separate groups: The Foundation is usually formed when larger amounts of money are needed than can be raised by the Friends group; these funds can then be invested until they are dispersed.
Create a Strategic Plan:
Strategic planning is a great way to bring the leadership of your group together and design your future. This is an excellent time to consider new goals and objectives and new ways of doing things. The planning process can be fun, and if you’re creative and open-minded, it can stimulate a stagnant group and provide a catalyst for new programs, ideas, and members.
Plan a Book or Author Event:
A great way to promote reading and provide a fun program for readers is to hold an author event. Authors are often eager to find a venue for promoting their work and readers always enjoy hearing the story behind the writing. It takes work to organize an author event; however, this is a wonderful way to bring a large audience into the library or raise Friends funds.
Get Involved with Literacy Programs:
Two of every five Americans are illiterate. Libraries and Friends of the Library groups can make a difference, especially with infants and toddlers. Studies show conclusively that children who experience a book-rich environment prior to pre-school and kindergarten have a significantly greater chance of success in school and in life.
Apply for Literary Landmark Status:
Literary Landmark status brings awareness of literary locations in your communities that are tied to a deceased literary figure, author, or his or her work. The Literary Landmarks Association was founded in 1986 by former Friends of Libraries U.S.A. president Frederick G. Ruffner to encourage the dedication of historic literary sites. Since that time, more than 100 Literary Landmarks™ have been dedicated across the U.S.
Revitalize Your Friends group:
Over time, your Friends group may stagnate. You may find that the same people are doing most of the work, officers may tend to rotate among the same people, and membership might drop. Some ways to deal with this are to engage new members, change the meeting times, or give a party for current and past members.
Other Ideas for Friends Groups
Ask newspapers to endorse your library-related legislative efforts.
Attend your city’s board meetings to voice support for library-supporting legislation.
Network to see if any of your contacts have resources to share; (i.e., donated office equipment, books, furniture, or even real estate).
Develop one or several of the following:
Fact sheet about pending library-related legislation, and distribute it at your local libraries. Include “pro” and “con” issues so that it is considered a fact sheet and not campaign materials.
Speaker’s bureau to arrange for relevant speakers at community meetings.
“Advocacy Committee” with a mission statement, goals, and objectives, to keep you focused on your efforts
“Advocacy Taskforce” to work closely with the director and board of trustees to generate grassroots support and media attention. Use tactics such as postcard campaigns, petition drives, media events, or an organized, strategic, “letters-to-the-editor” campaign.
Engage in fund-raising by organizing gift solicitations, fund-raising events, raffles, or by writing grants for your library.
Form a legislative committee to campaign for legislation (such as a tax increase) that would benefit your library.
Partner with a bookstore to host a public-awareness campaign about your library, and to fundraise.
Set up a “project alert.” Originally utilizing telephone trees and now sent mostly via email, Project Alerts are networks that can be activated on short notice to contact state/federal officials whenever there is an issue that will affect libraries.
Sponsor a neighborhood coffee gathering to discuss your library and hand out appropriate literature regarding issues and legislation.
Start a grassroots lobbying effort to increase library funding. For example: distribute press releases to local media or pass out flyers (that include tear-away Friends membership applications) at local businesses.
Take out an ad in your local newspaper in support of your library.
Use email mailing lists to let your supporters know about important, timely issues regarding your library. For example, if a piece of library-related legislation is about to be passed, email supporters to let them know where to show up next, where to write letters, and other ways they can voice their support for the library.
Write a position paper about pertinent or pending library-related legislation and distribute it at your town/city budget meeting.
Join United for Libraries to stay informed about the bigger picture of libraries and library-related issues and legislation.
Organizing a Friends Group
Contact United for Libraries, a division of ALA for tips on how to get started at email@example.com
Start an Academic Friends Group: Friends in academia can help their library by raising revenues for collections, materials, and equipment and help raise the profile of the campus library via sponsored programs and events.
Start a Teen Friends Group: Teens can be excellent Friends because involvement gives them a sense of responsibility and way to give back to the community. Teen Friends groups are also great ways to nurture a love of reading at a time when so many other diversions are calling them.
Organize a Friends of a Media Center/Library Group: A Friends group can have a positive impact on the school library or media center. They can provide volunteers and additional funding, and be an effective pressure group when the library or media centers’ funding is threatened. Parents or faculty who want to start a group should get the support of the media specialist before proceeding.
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