Would you recommend starting a Friends of the Library program for a school library? Could you discuss some of the benefits as well as the drawbacks to creating a group like this?
Libraries need Friends – it’s just that simple. In fact, across America, many public libraries were established through the efforts of community members who understood the value of libraries to their communities and also understood that libraries needed community support to survive. Did you know that a criterion for securing a Carnegie grant was a demonstrated commitment by members of the community to raise additional funds and support for a new library? This concept hasn’t changed over the course of the past 150 years – what has changed, however, is that academic and school libraries are also beginning to understand the value of Friends and many academic and school Friends groups are thriving on campus.
Having a Friends group in place can be compared to having your own bus to drive, where you are the driver and the members of your Friends group are the passengers. Stop the bus where it needs to go, let the passengers out, and they will work hard to help you get to the next stop. You are all doing your part.
Consult with your local public library, or surrounding area public libraries, and find active Friends groups. Attend a meeting, find out if they have a charter, how they were formed, and if the president of the group might be willing to come to a meeting of interested parties and talk about how to put together such a group for your school library. There is no “stepping on toes” as groups such as this draw from a different demographic and have different goals and objectives. Some of those bus stops can include (but aren’t limited to):
- Fundraising for book purchases or almost anything, actually
- Promoting awareness of the library and its activities
- Recruiting Volunteers
- Enhancing reading schoolwide through book fairs, visiting authors and other such programming and events
- Anything deemed a worthy goal
Are their drawbacks to establishing a Friends of the Library Group?
As with many forms of Advocacy or fundraising, the fear might be that the district will eliminate funding for the library as the Friends group gains traction and finds success. This may be true in some cases, but in many cases district funding is minimal and anything helps. Fear of district funding disappearing can also exist after the annual book fair, or when the PTO makes a donation, or really any monies collected for the library. With a Friends group, you also get hands-on help where needed, and a group whose sole focus is the library.
Can a Friends group work with the existing PTO? The volunteer coordinator? Absolutely! Working in conjunction and collaboration with these groups and individuals only creates more opportunities for success in supporting the library. You must show the way and orchestrate partnerships.
So, get in that bus and drive. Be the leader and define goals and objectives— this part is extremely important— and soon you will have a group that is ready and willing to work with you to provide books and resources of all types, as well as help with programming, brainstorming, and more. Good luck!