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Adopt a Library

by Mary Rayme on August 27, 2014

Mary Rayme is the director at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. Mary is currently working on a Master’s of Information Sciences degree via the University of Tennessee Knoxville as an ITRL2 scholar. Mary has worked as a filmmaker, graphic designer, teacher, and grant writer. Currently reading “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove” by Ahmir Questlove Thompson and Ben Greenman. A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog, http://rurallibrarianwv.blogspot.com/2014/07/level-playing-field-adopt-library.html.

“Today’s fund-seeking librarian would do well to be a cross between P. T. Barnum and Muhammad Ali. . . We can imitate the campaigns of General Motors, General Mills, Exxon, the neighborhood grocer, bank or any other institution.”

~ Fred Glazer, former director of the West Virginia Library Commission
from 1972-1996

Back in February of this year I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Big Talks From Small Libraries, a free online conference sponsored by the Nebraska Library Commission and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. One of the speakers was Rachel Reynolds Luster, a librarian in Missouri who was featured in a story on NPR in 2013. She said that she received thousands of cash and book donations from all over the country after that story aired on National Public Radio. To me, this outpouring of love and cash reinforces  that people LOVE libraries and only want to support them, especially in small, rural communities. But how can anyone support any library nationally?

Based on this story it came to my mind that it would be great if the American Library Association (or some other national library organization) hosted/sponsored/supported an Adopt-a-Library program nationally. This program would allow people from all over the world to pick and choose the state and/or library that they wanted to donate to. As a library director in a small rural community, I am quite sure there are more people from West Virginia who live outside the state than inside it because of lack of job opportunities here. If there were a nationwide Adopt-a-Library program it would allow libraries in small regions with less tax base to level the literacy playing field. The Adopt-a-Library program could even be as simple as a site that has links to a wish list for every library on Amazon or the like.

Out of State Library Supporters

Also, I have an amazing library supporter in Wisconsin who sends me a few boxes of items every year. This library fan is from West Virginia but no longer lives here, but wanted to support literacy in her home state. So Barb W. (you know who you are, you amazing person, you) contacted the West Virginia Library Commission and asked them about a small “up and coming” library in WV who in turn recommended the Pioneer Library (Thank you, WVLC!). Many people from West Virginia have to leave to find work. I’m willing to bet that this is the case with MANY small libraries around the United States. So how can out-of-staters support libraries from their home state?

I wrote my BIG IDEA to the American Library Association and received a kind response from Susan Brandehoff, the Director of Program Development and Partnerships, who recommended getting in touch with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies and I Love Libraries (an initiative of ALA). I have librarian friends all over the country. Some have multi-million dollar budgets, others (like my own) have budgets under $35,000 per year. Smaller libraries with smaller budgets cannot compete nor provide the same services as larger libraries in wealthier tax bases. How can we level the library playing field so that every library has the same access to money and materials? Money and materials are the two things that make libraries go.

I also thought my idea might strike a chord with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). After all, as libraries in small rural regions we have the most to gain from the National Adopt a Library Program. Recently, fellow West Virginian librarian Mary Stenger was featured in this year’s Parade magazine issue that shows what people earn across the country. She told me that after that article she received generous donations for her Lost Creek Library from all over the country. (Ms. Stenger was also awarded the Best Small Library in the USA in 2013 by the Gates Foundation because she is a feisty, resourceful, and amazing librarian who has transformed her community through her library.) More proof that Americans love librarians and that they want to support us.

Lack of Library Marketing and Promotion

Here is one of the big problems with libraries in the United States. Most librarians are busy cataloging, buying books, helping patrons, and putting out fires. Many librarians are natural helpers and teachers but they are not necessarily promoters and marketers. Even the American Library Association does not have a roundtable for promotion and marketing. It’s part of the reason that the Bill Gates Foundation gifted libraries with the Geek the Library advertising campaign. But the Geek the Library program was discontinued in 2014. Who will fill in the gap to help libraries promote, market and  advertise effectively? How can we have an easy, accessible mechanism so that library supports may give cash or book donations to the state or region of their choice? There is a generous market of library lovers nationwide that has remained untapped.

Who Wants To Have Their Library Adopted?

So there it is. People are passionate about libraries. People want to support libraries not just in their own communities. How can literacy and libraries continue to grow and thrive in small, impoverished parts of the United States? I know the West Virginia Library Commission is always pessimistic, “Prepare for budget cuts.” This year West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin cut an entire line item in the state budget for special library projects. Nationally, I have heard people question the continuing existence of libraries. Library budget cuts are constantly in the news. Times are tough, people. Let’s pool our resources nationally, let’s be a big supportive library team.

If we can find a national library organization willing to take this on, this could be an amazing place for small, rural libraries to post their Amazon Wish Lists. (And it doesn’t have to be Amazon, this is just an example.) From this central hub, complete and total strangers from all over the country (and world) who support libraries, literacy and lifelong learning may buy items or contribute cash for your library. This could kind of be like Kickstarter for libraries. Let’s do this people. Who’s in? Since this article was originally published on my Rural Librarian blog I have heard from many librarians who are supportive of my national adopt-a-library program. As of today, there are no national library organizations who have stepped up to provide small and rural librarians with a national online hub for donating to libraries. All this idea takes is some web space, list and link maintenance, and a little bit of marketing and promotion. I miss you, Fred Glazer.