Can’t Afford a Prom Dress? Try the Local Library

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By School Library Journal Staff, first appeared at on 04/08/2009

Reproduced, with permission, from School Library Journal Copyright © By Reed Business Information, A Division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

With its community facing tough economic times, the Galesburg Public Library has reached out by offering free prom dresses to teens who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

As a result of a the 100 Dresses Program launched by YA Librarian Kari Smith, more than two dozen local girls from four high schools recently chose from gently used evening dresses in all shades and sizes, donated from women's clubs, college students, and other high school kids. Some even walked away with matching accessories to wear on their big night, which takes place on April 25.

The girls were assisted by "personal shoppers" composed of five girls from the library’s teen advisory board, as well as Smith and Melinda Jones-Rhoades, another young adult librarian.

“This is really great. I can’t believe you’re just giving these dresses away!” enthused Elizabeth Mustain, a local teen who selected a gown at the “boutique.”

The program has been about a year in the making because working-class Galesburg residents have felt the economic squeeze long before the current financial meltdown. In 2005, local industries Maytag and the Butler Manufacturing Company moved out, leaving lots of townspeople unemployed.

“The residents of this town have had their fair share of hard knocks,” says Smith.

While a prom boutique is a new program for the Galesburg Public Library, there’s a history of prom dress donation in Galesburg. The first Galesburg institution to give away prom dresses was the University of Illinois Extension several years ago, but the program was shut down due to funding cuts, Smith explains.

“The girls who picked out dresses seemed thrilled we were offering the service,” she adds. “It’s worth it to see the smiles on the girls’ faces.”

The program was promoted through as many outlets as possible: on the library’s Web site, with fliers at schools and the library, and in the newspaper and on the radio, says Smith, who joined the library last year and pledged to beef up its YA programming.

So far, so good. The library served between 725 to 750 teens in 2008.