Library love

Library friends groups are forming throughout the city, a new model of private support expected to reach every branch by 2012

When the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems merged in 2008, two different models of private support also came together, prompting questions about how they’d coexist.  

City libraries were supported under a single friends-of the-library organization that oversaw fundraising, event planning, volunteering and other efforts throughout Minneapolis. In the suburbs, that support came from friends groups at each branch, which worked alongside the Library Foundation of Hennepin County.

“What we’ve really been looking at is trying to put together the best of the two models, the city model and the suburban model,” said Stu Wilson, executive director of the county’s Library Foundation.

Here’s what the foundation came up with: It will serves as the management and support organization for friends groups tied to each library throughout Hennepin county. That means Minneapolis’ 15 libraries need to catch up with their 26 suburban counterparts and form groups of devoted library patrons willing to act as ambassadors for their sites.

So far in the city, library friends groups have met at seven locations: Washburn (5244 Lyndale Ave. S.), Linden Hills (2900 W. 43rd St.), Walker (2880 Hennepin Ave.), Webber Park (4310 Webber Pkwy), Sumner (611 Van White Memorial Blvd.), East Lake (2727 E. Lake St.) and Northeast (2200 Central Ave.). The goal is to have a friends group established at each city library by the end of next year.

The appeal of local groups, Wilson said, is that they know the users, employees and needs of their libraries and can plan fundraisers, events and volunteer efforts accordingly. The foundation will serve as a resource for seed money and expertise and guide the formation of each group.

Members of friends groups pay yearly dues at a level of at least $25. The first $10 of each membership goes to the foundation for the enhancement of the entire county system. The rest goes directly to the member’s library and can be used to build resources and services in whatever way the branch’s friends group sees fit. Proceeds from branch book sales and other fundraising activities also stay with individual sites.   

In 2009, the roughly 1,100 people involved in suburban friends groups put in 10,000 hours of volunteer time and raised $180,000, said Adam Olson, public awareness coordinator for the library foundation.

So far, community interest in the groups has been strong, especially in Southwest, where friends of three libraries are already off to a running start. Many members had already been supporting their library in some fashion for years.

“Southwest is kind of the epicenter of library support historically in Minneapolis,” Olson said.

One of those supporters is Jeanne Exline, a Lynnhurst resident who has faithfully patronized Washburn Library since the day it opened 40 years ago. She is now the interim vice president of the Friends of Washburn Library group, which launched at a 40th anniversary celebration Oct. 2.

“I think with the merger, you feel a lot closer to your library when you can be a friend of your library,” Exline said. “We think this is a great way to develop community in a different way.”  

Washburn librarians Gloria Olson and Maggie Sloss said they recognize the group’s members as regular volunteers. Some worked at a used bookshop at the library that raised about $52,000 for the facility over a five-year period. The friends are already in talks with librarians about big plans for the branch, such as the creation of an area for teens and young adults.  

Linden Hills resident Carol Shaw, who received her first library card at Linden Hills library in the 1950s, is now on that facility’s fledgling friends group. She said it’s still in the formative stage and plans to launch officially in November.  

Shaw said she first saw the potential of friends groups a few years ago, when renovation work at her library caused her to visit suburban sites, where fundraising and programming support was evident.

“I was going to Southdale and Edina and I saw their friends groups and saw some of the things they were doing and I was very impressed with what they had done,” she said.  

Marva Sullivan, who lives in East Isles and joined the Walker Library friends group, which is also just getting started, said her organization has a different challenge because the library is slated to be closed and completely rebuilt by 2012. Some members of the group have been involved in the public process for developing a new building. She said the down time during the closure could be beneficial.

“We’ll have an opportunity to get more organized and maybe that will provide some idea time,” Sullivan said. “Other than that, I don’t see ourselves as different than any other organization. We have the same goals for the most part.”   

Wilson said the city isn’t having trouble finding interest in friends groups. But if some communities fall short, or needs aren’t being met, the foundation and its funding partners can allocate dollars accordingly, as they do now.

Olson, of the foundation, said that because of the merger, all of the groups are starting strong.

“These groups are starting with more advantages and resources than any other friends groups in the country, easily,” he said. “And that’s really exciting to see them not just get off to a running start, but a galloping start.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]