Think about the last time you visited your local library. What do you love best about it? The welcoming easy chairs, perhaps? The Internet access? The rich collection of books? Public libraries are an institution almost as old as civilization, and many of us take our libraries for granted.
But did you ever wonder who keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes? In addition to talented staffs of librarians and assistants, most of our southwest metro libraries are lucky to host Friends of the Library groups: teams of community volunteers who raise funds for the library, organize events and provide some of the “creature comforts” that can’t be funded by taxpayer dollars. “Friends are library advocates, and speak about the value of the public library to neighbors, friends, co-workers and elected officials,” says Eden Prairie librarian Sarah Garbis.
Even with advances in technology, like e-books and web-based information, there’s no replacing the library in a community, and local Friends groups exist to support that relationship. “I think the basic mission of the library has not changed,” says Friends of the Eden Prairie Library board member Pat Wassink. “Libraries have always existed to connect people with information…The Friends are the connection between the library and the community.”
Wassink notes that the Eden Prairie Public Library has the highest circulation of any of the 41 libraries in the Hennepin County Library System, with more than 1.3 million items going in and out every year. “Anybody who thinks that libraries are going to die hasn’t been in Eden Prairie recently,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a hub of activity.”
The Eden Prairie Friends help keep that activity running smoothly, holding three book sales every year to raise funds for various library projects. “We work on [projects] that have been submitted by the library staff,” says Elaine Anderson, another board member.
“[Those funds] have gone to things like boxes of Kleenex and stools for toddlers to furnishings for the family reading center,” Wassink says. “We provide transportation for all first graders in the [Eden Prairie] school district to make a first library visit…every April.”
The Eden Prairie Friends also fund small things that make a big difference—like free diapers at the restroom changing table for moms and babies. “These are the kinds of things the librarians, whenever they see a need, ask us to help take care of,” says Anderson.
Eden Prairie’s Friends group boasts more than 100 members, who attend regular meetings, come up with fundraising ideas and volunteer at book sales. Eden Prairie Friends board member Cindy Pilgram encourages anyone who loves the library to get involved. “Part of what got me going with the Friends was that…we need to still get the message out [about everything] the library can do for the public,” Pilgram says. “It’s not just a place to get a book—we have so many other activities going on.”
Just like the Eden Prairie group, the Friends of the Chanhassen Library are widely appreciated. “They’re a terrific group. I don’t know what we would do without them,” says branch manager Kathy Bognanni.
The Chanhassen Friends sponsor a popular program called Lucky Day: They purchase extra copies of new bestsellers—books that usually have long waiting lists—and make them available for a two-week check-out period. “It’s your ‘lucky day’ if the one you want happens to be sitting there,” Bognanni explains.
Another favorite project? “The Friends provide coffee for free to library users,” Bognanni says. “They do that all year round, but it’s especially appreciated during the cold months.”
Chanhassen Friends member Linda Landsman doesn’t see these important groups falling by the wayside as libraries adapt to new ways of sharing information. “The core value of most Friends groups is that the health and well-being of the library is preserved during all the changes that come with technology,” she says.
For information about your local Friends group, or to become a member, visit supporthclib.org (Eden Prairie) or carverlib.org (Chanhassen, Chaska, Victoria Express and Waconia).