October 18-24th, 2020 is National Friends of the Library week! This is the 15th year that the celebration has occurred, although we have had Friends organizations for a long time. Author Susan Cushman dates Friends of the Library (FOL) organizations all the way back to 1913 in France and, in the United States, 1922 in Illinois. Many libraries are dependent on the support of its Friends organization for buying material for the collection, summer reading programs, and other funds to enrich the library.
What do these organizations do today? In many cases, the Friends of the Library raise funds and advocate for the library. This is usually through used book sales or memberships to the Friends of the Library. Many members of FOL are also frequent users of the library and the most vocal supporters. The local FOL in my area has raised more than $5.3 million for our library district since its inception in 1986. It’s been around since 1954, and they’ve been having a book sale to support us for about as long. In our community, FOL also supports staff scholarships and mini-grants for projects that promote cultural enrichment. Library school students seeking internships, volunteer work experience, and educational assistance should look to connecting with their local FOL. Another great thing FOL does is accept donations. Every year, we receive thousands of donations of items from supportive citizens. We, unfortunately, cannot accept all of them, and FOL graciously sorts through and prices them for the sale each other. It is an immense amount of work that we are all grateful for.
Organizations like FOL help keep libraries relevant. In a non-COVID year, the Friends of the Library book sale in our are attracts hundreds of buyers. Besides all it does to help make our libraries amazing, it raises awareness of the public library and puts our city on the map for many people statewide. As libraries reopen, there are opportunities for us to support our Friends organizations to say thank you.
- Volunteer: If you’re able, volunteer to help sort books, staff the book sale, post on the social media, or any other expertise that you can offer to help their mission. FOL are usually completely run by volunteers, many of them older adults. I spent two Saturdays volunteering at our curbside Bag of Books sale, and it was one of the best service opportunities I’ve had all year.
- Become a member: Many FOL allow library employees to become members (as well as members of the public). There is usually a small fee associated, but it often has a student discount and you get to hear about and support all of the good FOL is doing in your community!
- Write a Letter to the Editor: You can give your FOL book sale or donation drop box some publicity by submitting a Letter to the Editor to your local newspaper telling everyone how great FOL is. This is an easy way to say thank you… and spread the word!
- Send a Thank You card: A little kindness can go a long way. Thank You cards are easy ways to personally thank your FOL for all that they’ve done to impact your life or your community. Getting some others at your library to write cards would be a great bonus here!
- Spread the word: We know the power of the Internet. Taking a selfie at the book sale, sharing a picture of the books you bought, inviting your Facebook friends to the event, following the organization on their social media… all of these are great ways to help others hear about FOL. Often, you can purchase an entire classroom’s library for under $50 at a FOL book sale. This benefits schools, teachers, AND libraries. What a great gift.
As an FOL scholarship recipient, library employee, and member of the community, I am so thankful for what our FOL has been able to do. I’m also thankful for all the hard-working FOL organizations across the country helping their public libraries stay afloat. If your area doesn’t have an FOL, United for Libraries has great resources for how to establish one and keep it going.
Thank you, Friends of the Library!
Courtney Evans is graduating this semester with her M.S.I. from Florida State University with an interest in public library and academic library partnerships, information literacy, and open science. She recently accepted a position as a Teen Librarian in Gainesville, FL. You can connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/courtney-evans-2018/) and on Twitter (@cevans_lib).
Categories: Advocacy & Activism