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Get By With A Little Help From Our (Library) Friends!

by on June 16, 2014

A person can never have too many friends … right?!  Well, neither can your local public library.  In the realm of library supporters, organized library Friends groups play an invaluable role in promoting and fostering the success of public library systems across America.  Friends groups can often help with activities that might not necessarily be readily accomplished by library staffers or even library governing board members.

Library Friends groups can be involved in a number of specialized tasks that support the work of professional staff members in providing superior library services to the general public.  The most typical activities of Friends groups encompass the following:

  • Creating public support for the library system and/or an individual library branch
  • Sponsoring programs designed to enhance the cultural life of the local community
  • Taking the lead on advocacy related to library policy issues or library budget decisions
  • Providing a wide array of volunteer assistance
  • Contributing direct financial support for the library system or branch, so as to enhance the range of offerings and services available for the local community

Library Friends groups can be structured in about as many unique ways as library systems themselves.  Some groups are statewide, others support a library system as-a-whole, while others are organized to promote a specific branch or location within a larger library system.

Here in Maryland, we have an organization—known as the Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML)—that essentially functions as a statewide library friends group.  I have the honor of serving on the Board of Directors of CML, and have witnessed first-hand the dedicated work of this group of volunteers.  This organization has a detailed strategic plan to ensure that its work always serves to meet the group’s overall mission – “to serve as a positive force for the promotion of enhanced library services for all Marylanders.”

CML accomplishes this in a number of ways.  Members are at once active in promoting their hometown library systems, while also traveling to our state capital in Annapolis to testify in support of legislation essential to maintaining robust library funding.  Recently, CML solicited the views of candidates currently running to serve as the next Governor of Maryland, publishing and getting their perspectives about libraries on the record for all to see.

Other Friends groups, such as the Friends of Washoe County Library, in Reno, Nevada, serve to support an entire local library system.  According to the Washoe Friends, the organization “offers the community a chance to invest in the success of the Library by donating funds or volunteering.”  Significantly, these committed volunteers were able to donate a total of nearly $115,000 to the library during the 2013 calendar year.  For other library systems, this sort of mission is carried out by a separate foundation, which serves as a dedicated charitable arm to raise funds for the library.

Still other library systems, such as my hometown library system in Baltimore County, Maryland, have friends groups that work to promote individual branches.  Eight of the nineteen branches of the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) currently have friends groups, with one branch presently putting a group together.  Our Towson Friends have held an annual spring book sale that consistently garners sizeable sums to help that branch.  Additionally, the Pikesville Branch Friends put on a locally-recognized speaker’s series, which is invariably sold out.

If your library doesn’t have a Friends group, you can easily look into what it would take to start one.  United for Libraries, the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations, maintains a comprehensive resource page for all things friends and foundations.  There, you can learn more about:  how to start a Friends group, how to engage in either advocacy or fund-raising, or how to positively interface with library staff.  Getting going is simple, just reach out and offer to be a true friend to your local library.


  1.  Citizens for Maryland Libraries Website:  http://www.citizensformarylandlibraries.org/
  2. 2014 Strategic Plan, Citizens for Maryland Libraries:  http://www.citizensformarylandlibraries.org/docs/splan1013.pdf
  3. Friends of Washoe County Library Website:  http://www.washoelibraryfriends.org/
  4. Baltimore County Public Library Website, Friends Groups Page:  http://www.bcpl.info/about-us/friends
  5. United for Libraries Website, Friends & Foundations Fact Sheets Page:  http://www.ala.org/united/friends/factsheets