Friends of the Library, the History

As I continue my tour to speak at 24 libraries in 7 states, talking about my short story collection Friends of the Library, I thought I’d learn a bit more about the history of these groups.

1929 in Albany, New York

The first group to name itself a “Friends group” was founded in France in 1913. The first group that named itself “Friends of the Library” in the United States was founded in 1922 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The first president of the group was Mrs. Al Chase and the organization was established to help purchase books for the library. The first year saw this group raise $365 through membership fees. Also in 1922, another group was founded in Syracuse, New York.

In 1979, the Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA) was founded in order to help develop more Friends groups around the country. FOLUSA was affiliated with ALA (American Library Association). By the time of the formation of FOLUSA, there were 2,000 Friends groups and around half a million members of these groups.

Mississippi

This sign points to the library in Aberdeen, Mississippi. The victorian house across the street inspired one of the stories in my short story collection.

Of the 24 libraries I’ll be visiting on this tour, 13 are in my home state of Mississippi. 8 of those inspired stories for the book. (2 more are pending.)

Texas

According to the United for Libraries website, 24 states also have state-wide Friends organizations. Of course Texas is one of them! Friends of the Libraries & Archives of Texas has some helpful information, including a link to the Texas Center for the Book and the amazing activities that it promotes. I’m excited to be traveling to Jefferson Texas on September 26, where I’ll deliver the keynote for the annual Friends of the Library dinner at the Jefferson Texas Carnegie Library.

Tennessee

I’m proud that Tennessee is another state that has a state-wide organization.

Governor Bill Lee has declared October 20-26, 2019 as Friends of the Libraries Week for the state of Tennessee. I’ll be celebrating a little earlier at the Friends of the Library meeting in Jackson, Tennessee on October 3, and then the monthly “Books and Beyond” meeting at 10:15 a.m. on October 15 at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis.

Want to start a Friends group at your library?

FOLSUA has created guidelines for forming a Friends group at your library, here.

Does your Friends group need help?

Library Strategies offers “9 Friends Groups Best Practices” on their website. If you already have a Friends group at your library, but it’s struggling or just needs some inspiration, you might consider these.

1) Find Purpose. Every Friends organization should have a mission and know their supporting role (especially if the Library has a foundation, as well). Be specific in articulating why your Friends group exists and what types of activities it will engage in. Determine what your Friends will do. A Friends group can help the Library by engaging in these types of activities – fundraising, programming, public awareness or advocacy.

2) Collaborate with the Library. The Friends board chair should have strong communication with the library director. Understand the library’s needs and determine how your Friends group can help meet those needs.

3) Collaborate with your Foundation. If your Library has a foundation – have a Board member from each organization serve as a liaison to the other organization. This will ensure that everyone’s on the same page in how the two organizations are supporting the library. Don’t be territorial, or possessive with your resources. Share mailing lists. Schedule key activities (membership drives, annual campaigns, etc.) so they don’t bump into each other.

4) Recruit a Strong Board. Your Friends group should have a strong Board of Directors with skills that will support the organization’s mission – and also have connections to the community. Sad to say it but…your Friends Board should NOT be made up of book lovers. You need idea people, strategic thinkers and worker bees! Recruit interesting people of all ages and backgrounds, and from across the community. Interesting people attract interesting people. This type of Board will be energetic and productive.

5) Set Term Limits. All Friends Boards should have term limits. It’s amazing how many hard-working people we’ve met who’ve been on their boards for (literally) decades.

6) Create Committees. As your Friends group grows, create standing committees to do the “work” of the organization (Fundraising, Advocacy, Special Events, etc.) A Nominating Committee should continually be looking for new Friends Board members.

7) Plan for the Future. Every Friends organization should have a strategic plan. It doesn’t have to be anything long or elaborate, but the plan should address all of the Friends activities and have leads, or champions, for each activity in the plan – and a timeline!

8) Have Productive Meetings. Friends don’t need to meet every month (but they can). Poll your Board members to determine how often and what time works for your members to meet. Work on specific activities can be done between Board meetings. Structure your Board meetings to take no more than an hour. Report on progress on specific activities and strategic initiatives or issues. Schedule an annual meeting (and invite all your members) to review how well the organization is doing at meeting its goals.

New Orleans

Tomorrow (Saturday, September 7) I’ll be speaking at the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library at 12:30 p.m., in the middle of the Friends of the Library’s book sale!

The Milton H. Latter Library was once a stately mansion for a noted turn-of-the century family, an elegant retreat for a silent screen star and a festive center for weeklong parties. It now serves the Uptown community as a branch of the New Orleans Public Library.

Mr. and Mrs. Marks Isaacs built the mansion in 1907. The Isaacs were the proprietors of a department store in New Orleans. In addition to the Isaacs, their two daughters and a son, the mansion housed 12 servants, a cow, many chickens and dogs, and one of the first automobiles in New Orleans.

This gorgeous mansion had several more owners after Mark Isaacs died in 1912. Lastly, in 1948, the house was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Latter. Their dream was to transform the mansion into a public library as a memorial to their son, Milton, who lost his life at Okinawa during World War II.

Today, the Latter Library exists not only as an information and education center, but as a reminder of more elegant and gracious times on St. Charles Avenue. Latter Library circulates over 200,000 items each year and its collection includes nearly 50,000 books and materials. It is a fitting memorial to Milton H. Latter and the generosity of his family.

Can’t wait to see this gorgeous library and meet some of the loyal Friends volunteers and readers who will be there!

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