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TL v60n2:How Friends Add Value to Their Libraries
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 2



 How Friends Add Value to Their Libraries 


Martha Gill, President

Friends of Tennessee Libraries


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 Presented at TLA 2010 Conference by Connie Albrecht, Frances Darnell, Carol Harris, Martha Gill and Peter McNeal.


 Whether Friends’ groups have 10 members or more than 1,000, they are adding value to their libraries.That’s what Frances Darnell, a past president of Friends of Tennessee Libraries and a member of FOTL’s advisory committee, was able to document when she surveyed Friends representing each level of public libraries in Tennessee. Each Friends’ group uniquely responds to its setting, but verbs like purchase, fund, support, contribute, and donate recur. Limitations of space necessitate drastic editing of what Mrs. Darnell’s survey revealed, but all details are available in database form at the Friends of Tennessee Libraries’ website [].

Level I (Pop. Under 5,000):  Kodak and Pickett County Friends
Kodak Library’s Friends celebrated their 15th anniversary this spring, and many of their charter members are still active in the organization. Not only does the group provides a monthly stipend to the branch library for materials not covered by the library’s budget, but it also connects the library to the community and the area’s heritage.  Friends of Kodak Library have spearheaded the creation of the new Kodak Heritage Handcrafted Collection, which focuses on the fast-disappearing everyday crafts that pioneers in the area practiced to ensure survival. After conferring with John Rice Irwin of the Museum of Appalachia, FOKL purchased over 100 items -- books, DVDs, and CDs -- to establish the collection, and items purchased and exhibited by the Friends call attention to the collection.  The group’s co-sponsorship of Kodak Heritage Day further celebrates the community’s history as does its sale of a cookbook containing recipes from local chefs and historical notes about local families, buildings, and cultural institutions. Friends’ funding supports a full range of activities for library patrons from preschoolers to teens to adult. Although the Kodak Branch is the smallest unit in the Sevier County System, it sees the largest participation in the Summer Reading Program, for which Friends serve as “Accounting Agent,” receiving all donations and paying all expenses.  The Friends’ frequent e-mails and newsletters alert members, teachers, and the media to events at the library and the value of its services [Dwight Shepherd, personal communication, January 2010].

Friends of the Pickett County Public Library have actually made their library possible by raising funds to purchase land and to construct a metal shell for a new facility in their community. The deed for the property was drawn up and presented to the County Commission along with some debt.  Delilah Gibson, contact for the Pickett County Friends, tells the rest of the story, which includes a cordial relationship between the Friends and the County Commission:

When the company we bought the building from had a class action lawsuit brought against them, we received almost $10,000, which we gave back to the county for debt on the building. We have great support from them, and we know from hearing others talk at the region and from past experiences here that this is not always the case. The commission meets each month in our meeting room, and we try to send information or one of us attends regularly to update them on circulation or inform them of what is going on in the library. We have good community support and people who realize the importance of the library which goes a long way. (Personal communication, January 2010)

For that building Friends have purchased shelving, furnishings, a play kitchen for the Children’s Area, a projector for use on Movie Night, new DVDs, and bestselling books since the book lease program is no longer available through the regional system. The group encourages others in the community to make donations to the library through a Memorial Donation Program and sponsors the county’s Imagination Library. As an organization, Friends supplement the janitor’s salary, and as individuals Friends volunteer to read to children during the Summer Reading Program. An individual Friend purchased a laptop computer and scanner for the Genealogy Department and volunteers one day a week or more to help patrons do research [Delilah Gibson, personal communication, January 2010].

Level II (Pop. 5,000-9,999): Sequatchie and Westmoreland Friends

The Sequatchie County Friends of the Library in Dunlap donate countless hours of work for or at their library. Two book sales a year enable the Friends to cover the expense of Story Hour and the Summer Reading Program; the cost of electrical work and drywall repair at the library as well as cleaning carpets and blinds; purchases of furniture, a digital camera, and a bar code scanner; and the publication of new library brochures.  Contributions to the life of the community include sponsorship of the Imagination Library in the county, an exhibit featuring local artists, a six-week discussion of “Lincoln in America,” weekly reading to elementary school children, projects to benefit veterans and families of National Guards serving in Afghanistan, and collections for the local food bank. To strengthen the ties of the community to the library, the organization has joined the local Chamber of Commerce and members regularly attend meetings  of the County Commission. The Friends recently joined the community’s celebration of the library’s 50th anniversary by purchasing a memorial brick to be placed in a city sidewalk [Lucy Szelengiewicz, personal communication, January 2010].

The Friends of the Westmoreland Library number only 10 members, but over the years they have made possible the addition of two rooms to the library, support of the Summer Reading Program, and the purchase of a new circulation desk. Friends also pay the TLA dues of their director. Willie Ruth Borders, library director, has high praise for the Friends: “Over the year these ladies and gentlemen have done so much for our library that words cannot express how grateful we are. . . . Their endless efforts to help us are wonderful. We appreciate them so much. All libraries need a good Friends’ group.”  [Personal communication, February 2010].

Level III (Pop. 10,000-24,999): Friends of Cheatham County, E. G. Fisher, Macon County, and Ripley Libraries

The Friends of Cheatham County support their libraries by providing funds for new books and magazine subscriptions as well as supplies for the weekly reading program for children.  Reaching into the community, they have sponsored Mommy and Me sign language classes, instruction in Spanish for children and adults, and guests to engage children during the Summer Reading Program. Their magic goes beyond their hosting a magician to help children and adults usher in the New Year [Doreen Flash, personal communication, January 2010].

Established in 1984, the Friends of the E. G. Fisher Library in Athens have contributed $15,000 to the library’s operating budget for programming, materials, and technology. In addition they provide many ongoing services like the sponsorship of Summer Reading programs as well as book discussions and evenings with authors. Beyond the walls of the library they have established a collection of magazines and paperbacks for the inmates at the county’s Justice Center. Serving as advocates for the library in the community, they provide speakers to inform civic groups about the library and their Friends’ organization. By giving the Friends a VIVID (Valuable Volunteer) Award, the city of Athens recognized the pivotal role that Friends played in bringing a successful BIG READ initiative to the city and McMinn County in February 2009 [Library Director Beth A. Mercer, personal communication, February 2010].

Friends of Macon County understand the importance of communicating with those who fund their libraries.  In partnership with the Macon County Public Library Board of Trustees, the Friends sponsor an annual barbeque supper for the local funding bodies for libraries in Macon County, Red Boiling Springs, and the city of Lafayette.  The Friends’ donations strengthen the Library Foundation and help to purchase books as well as furnishings for branches.  Friends have also made a donation to the Friends in Polk County, the only county in the state that does not have a library. Friends register children for the Summer Reading Program and contributed to the purchase of a beautiful sculpture for the library groups to replace a historic tree felled by the storm of 2008 [Frances Darnell, personal communication, March 2008].

Perhaps unique to the activities of the Ripley Friends is the publication and sale of a beautiful pictorial History of Lauderdale County. Sales have been brisk, and work on the second volume has begun. All proceeds from the books will go to support the library. The active members of the Ripley Friends are “always available to help with any project when needed,” according to Carol Harris [Personal communication].

Level IV (Pop.25,000-49,999): Dickson County, McIver’s Grant, and W. G. Rhea Friends

Dickson County Friends’ activities benefit the library and the larger community by promoting literacy. For example, Friends purchased 73 award-winning children’s books and sponsored the highly successful summer reading program for 1200 kids. Friends sponsor a monthly book club whose membership is growing, and sponsor an author night. Funds have been raised with a month-long book sale and the sale of a unique cookbook combining fantastic recipes with known and little known books and authors [Doreen Flash, personal communication, January 2010].

Friends of McIver’s Grant Public Library in Dyersburg “are always willing to help whenever asked,” according to Carol Harris.Only one year old, this “remarkable group of ladies and gentlemen” has raised money to make activities possible that could not have been held otherwise. The group’s major goal for 2010 is to assist in raising funds for the new library that Dyersburg desperately needs. Directly benefiting the library, the Friends have sponsored a book talk, donated funds for a top-of-the-line Apple laptop to assist with the redesign of the website and to make updates more quickly and simpler, pledged matching funds for the ABC grant McIver’s has received, and assisted with and donated funds to support the Easter Egg Hunt and story time. Friends have raised funds by selling breakfast foods at Dyersburg Downtown Festival, a direct mailing campaign to increase membership and raise funds, and a bake sale. A morning coffee and Afternoon with Santa attracts new members while attracting children to the library [Carol Harris, personal communication, January 2010].

Friends of the W. G. Rhea Public Library in Paris “are the life’s blood of the library,” according to Library Director Connie McSwain. In addition to funding, the Friends offer “emotional, physical, and political help to the staff and the library. They are the major component of the success of their library.” This group has funded a new floor for both meeting rooms, the Summer Reading Program, the Christmas Open House, the library’s participation in the Paris Christmas parade, pre-school story hour with supplies and presents for children at Christmas and Halloween.  Friends have matched funds for a new computer for the Children’s Library, awarded two $1,000 scholarships for graduating high school students, donated $500 to the Genealogy Dept., and purchased needed furniture, DVDs and Audio Books for the library.  The Friends act as Webb Master for the library’s website and “are available when any unforeseen emergency arises, both financially and as volunteers” [Connie McSwain, personal communication, date].

Level V (Pop. 50,000-175,000): Art Circle and Putnam County  Friends

Friends of the Art Circle Library, formed in 1984, have raised funds for a new library for many years, and this year their dream came true when a new facility opened May 2. In honor of their contributions of over $100,000 to the building and its furnishings, the Children’s Library has been named for the Friends.Throughout the years the Friends have built a broad base of community support through its monthly newsletter and meetings, the contributions of individual members to local publications urging support for the library, its programs celebrating Tennessee authors,  and its recruitment of business members. Library advocacy also liesat the heart of its members’ involvement in other organizations like the Imagination Library Board, the Cumberland Adult Reading Council, Friends of Tennessee Libraries, and Library Legislative Day. During the economic downturn volunteers from the Friend have stepped up to help the library staff move from a small building to a 34,288 square-foot facility (John Nye, personal communication, February 2010).

Friends of the Putnam County Libraries add to the list of their supporting activities every month, but those projects include contributing to the library’s collection, promoting literacy among the young, enhancing the library’s technology, improving its furnishings, and showing members of the staff how much they are appreciated. Friends give the library one half of the proceeds from a monthly book sale for the purchase of books and permanent supplies. Audio books, reference materials, books in large print, and 10 magazines exist because of the Friends’ funding. A new computer desk stands in the Children’s Library and 35 upholstered chairs wait in the main library because of the Friends’ support.  The staff has enjoyed lunches and refreshments as well as a picnic table for their use during breaks because of the Friends. A Sunday afternoon  authors’ series, an essay contest for fifth graders, and a brochure developed and printed by the Friends on “How to Read to a Child” encourage literacy in the community.  Patrons are directed to the library by a new sign designed, purchased, and installed by the Friends [Connie Albrecht, personal communication, January 2010].

Metro Libraries: Memphis and Knoxville Friends

Memphis Friends, capitalizing on the extraordinary resources of their metropolitan area, have invested thousands of dollars in their libraries’ collections, technology, and projects for all branches and for library staff. Financed by online sales as well as sales from a daily bookstore, Friends have also placed books in the Veterans Administration Hospital, Children’s Hope House, jails in the city and in Shelby County, the Juvenile Intervention Program, and numerous nursing homes [Peter McNeal, personal communication, March 2010].

Friends of the Knox County Public Library, backed by a membership of over 1,000 and funded by an annual used book sale as well as a bookstore operated daily by 200 volunteers, continues to fund dozens of activities and projects on the library’s wish list.  In addition, it has created Shoebox Libraries in various locationsfor patrons unable to travel to the library. Looking toward future expansion of the library system, the group has created a foundation and funded studies of possible sites for a new central library. Newsletters, website, and a newly created Facebook page promote timely communication with members and the general public. One of the group’s excellent practices is the publication of an annual report, accessible on its website at [Suzanne Freeman, personal communication, March 2010].


Little has been said about how Friends’ groups raise the financial support that they provide their libraries. Specifics can be found on the Friends of Tennessee Libraries’ website at, but book sales, sometimes daily or monthly, sometimes once or twice a year, are the most common fundraisers.  Online sales are increasing in popularity and profitability. But like their projects, fundraisers are also unique to their settings. Food is a common theme. For example, Cheatham County Friends have great success with their spring salad luncheons. Friends of the Westmoreland Library earned over $2,000 at the annual ham supper.  Cookies sell well in Ripley, but so does a tour of homes at Christmas.  Friends of the Westmoreland Library sell photos of children at Easter and Christmas.  Locally published books raise funds in Kodak and Ripley. Friends’ membership dues are modest, but some Friends like those in Crossville have raised funds from business-level memberships. Success seems to follow Friends’ understanding of their community, their awareness of their library’s needs, their identification of people within their group who can help them fulfill those needs, and their ability to support their library while at the same time they promote literacy and community.  It is just that kind of leadership that adds value to a county, town, city, or state.

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