At the Brookfield Public Library we have been fortunate enough to have a small but dedicated Friends of the Library group for just over thirty years. I met the group for the first time in 2005, and while I was happy to be coming on board to a Library that had an active support group I also noticed that the bunch came with their idiosyncrasies. Only later would I realize that all Friends of the Library organizations are unique and outfitted with caring, eccentric souls. If you’re a new Library Director my advice is to look beyond all of this and focus on the group’s purpose: supporting your Library in ways big and small. And writing checks, big and small.
Setting the stage and expectations for regular meetings with your Friends of the Library organization is a necessary task. Some Library Directors forgo these meetings and charge another staff member with attending them, say a public relations staffer. I have personally chosen to attend the monthly meetings and for years the Friends and I have enjoyed the banter and interplay at the gatherings. When it comes down to it, those quirky personalities can make for jovial meetings and for hilarious conversations about exactly why the Library needs funding for additional stepstools, for chemicals to use in the Geeks science class or for pizza for the staff. I believe my requests have only been turned down once or twice in the past decade. Not a bad track record, if I do say so myself. Our Friends group has most recently provided the seed money for the political action committee that was formed to support the Library’s new building plans and 2016 referendum. And they’re also in their ninth year of the Library’s annual fundraiser – The Taste of Brookfield @ Your Library – an immensely successful after-hours event that is a boon to the Library’s image in the community.
Has our Library’s Friends of the Library group always been a smashing success? Absolutely not, but don’t tell anyone. Leadership and membership in the Friends has waxed and waned, so much so that in some years it is key Library staff putting on the annual fundraiser with the help of just a few Friends members. But the larger community has never been the wiser, seeing the Friends as a thriving, integral organization. When two hundred plus residents and community stakeholders raise their wine glasses to the Library, bid on silent auction items, and work the room each fall, the Library’s advocacy group appears to be the strongest and hippest club in town. The event then attracts new blood for the Friends, with eager members coming forward to take part in next year’s planning and in the Friends group. Regroup. Rinse. Repeat.
In ten years’ time, I look back and realize I’ve spent many, many hours sitting with the Friends in their meetings. My time and effort has been returned ten-fold to the Library – and therefore to the community – via heightened Library awareness, usage, and improved program offerings. The cast of core Friends characters has remained mostly the same but change is always happening within the group.
Love your Friends, bolster them up when they need it, and carefully craft your check requests.
Kimberly Coughran is Director of the Brookfield Public Library.