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MALF Blog

Minnesota Association of Library Friends

In 1998, the town of Saint Peter suffered wide-ranging damage in one of the most devasting tornadoes to hit Minnesota in living memory. Among other casualties, the town lost its historic downtown library facility. For years after the so-called Comfrey - Saint Peter tornado, patrons resorted to using a FEMA trailer set up on the property to pick up and return books.

strands.jpgNeedless to say, residents were elated when a new, 16,400-square-foot library finally opened to the public four years later. Moreover, the facility offered a variety of amenities and aesthetic advantages that its predecessor did not. More windows and copious amounts of natural light rank high among these.

Last year, The Friends of the Saint Peter Public Library gifted their library a one-of-a-kind colored glass mosaic to accentuate that natural asset. Titled “Strands of Knowledge,” the 23-piece work of art now graces the library’s expansive entryway.

The Friends landed on this beautification project in consultation with lead librarian Doug Wolfe and a special entryway enhancement committee established for just this discussion.

nicollettco.pngAfter some preliminary due diligence research, the group selected Saint Peter-based glass artist Bob Vogel to design Strands of Knowledge. Vogel’s striking commercial work can be seen across Minnesota – at a college in Mankato, hospital in Slayton, and churches dotted across the state.

For his hometown library, Vogel chose a colorful double helix design that symbolically links knowledge, books and art. Library staff landed on the apropos name.

Design and fundraising work began in earnest in January 2018. “Expenses for this project really involved only three entities: the artist, the installer, and the engraver for the recognition plaque,” explained project lead Margie Nelsen. “For this reason, it was possible to get reasonable and precise installation costs early.”

The Friends, who committed themselves at the onset to cover the entire project fee (minus only a small public stipend from the City), brainstormed on how to reach the $13,000 target required by Strands of Knowledge. Helpfully, the group was able to get nearly halfway there by reallocating $7,000 from its general operating budget.

For the remainder, Friends leadership adopted an internal, versus external approach. Instead of a general, city-wide call to action, the campaign focused on the organization’s general membership. In all, 35 different members raised $4,045 collectively. A generous, $1,500 match grant offered by another Friend allowed the campaign to hit its goal.

Installation occurred before year’s end, in time for a November 28, 2018 dedication ceremony. The Friends spent $60 to prepare and mail special invitations to city councilmen and other public officials.

“The value or effectiveness of this type of project is always difficult to measure,” noted Margie Nelsen. “However, we’ve received nothing but positive feedback about the beauty and appropriateness of this new addition to the Saint Peter Public Library.” Indeed, some visitors stroll in for the express purpose of glimpsing Strands of Knowledge!

As parents everywhere can attest, getting children to behave in a restaurant setting can be an iffy proposition. Most eateries offer crayons to keep little ones occupied throughout the meal, but what if they could provide something more?

The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library recently asked themselves this very question.

LYRbhXgo.jpgWhile it may seem out of left field, the restaurant sphere is actually one that The Friends is coming to know well. Over the past couple of years, they have partnered with Brainerd-based 3 Cheers Hospitality on their tremendously successful Books, Burgers and Brews (BBB) programming series. BBB is a play on the traditional book club, and features one-of-a-kind dishes specially designed by the head chef to pair with the book of the month.

In an extension on that existing partnership, Friends leadership approached the LLC about installing Little Free Libraries in its two most popular Brainerd Lakes establishments: Prairie Bay Grill in Brainerd and Sherwood Forest Lodge in nearby Nisswa.

Little Free Library, the nationwide “take a book, share a book” phenomenon, boasts more than 75,000 stalls. Founded by a Minnesotan in Hudson, Wisc., in 2009, our state is home to our fair share and then some. However, few if any Minnesota installations can currently be found in restaurants, according to the nonprofit’s website.

crowwingco.pngWhen approaching the restauranteur, The Friends pledged to keep both Little Free Libraries stocked with quality books sourced from their donated book inventory. Whenever either box ran low, the manager could simply call for a curated shipment of replacements.

In exchange, each kiosk would display a Friends decal reading “compliments of the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library” – along with a website URL and other basic information about the group.

3 Cheers Hospitality jumped at the opportunity. Thus far, The Friends have been asked to replenish the books at each approximately once a month! That is, if anything, a conservative assessment of the libraries’ popularity. According to staff, many families will borrow and enjoy a book for the duration of the meal, and return it right where they found it on their way out the door.

This is a good sign, to be sure; and the anecdotal evidence has been equally heartening. “We love hearing at our book sales how someone found their last great read at Prairie Bay, and learned about us and our events in the process,” said Friends president Sheila DeChantal.

3 Cheers Hospitality boasts half a dozen other restaurants in north central Minnesota, and The Friends are strongly considering doubling down on their Little Free Library initiative with a Phase 2 expansion.

grandrapids.pngUsed book sales remain, hands down, the most popular and most visible type of Friends fundraiser. However, there’s plenty of room for experimentation with this tried-and-true favorite, as the Friends of the Grand Rapids Area Library can attest.

In November 2018, they held their first-ever pop up sale. The reasoning behind this move is both simple and profound.

Over the past decade, reading habits have changed for a significant slice of bibliophiles. In this era of e-readers, trekking to the library or book store is no requirement – you can find materials from the comfort of your couch. With grassroots initiatives like Little Free Libraries, physical books and serendipitous discovery are attainable close to home, as well.

Pop up sales, held in a nontraditional (read “non-library) location, seemed like a logical enough extension on the trend.

Organizers faced two questions at the onset: when, and where? The Friends ultimately landed on the first Saturday of November, because the date coincided with Itasca County’s deer hunting opener. Unsurprisingly, Grand Rapids sees steady visitor traffic that weekend. Moreover, the town typically hosts many small bake and craft sales that week, and a pop-up book boutique fit nicely with the tradition.

November also allowed The Friends to brand this inaugural pop-up event as a holiday kickoff, of sorts. The Friends stockpiled Christmas books all year long, ending up with 20 boxes chalk-full of seasonal cookbooks, children’s books, and craft manuals. Materials representing nearly all other genres rounded out the offerings nicely.

As advertised, the pop-up Holiday Book Boutique was there and gone in a flash. The short-term nature of the event added to the appeal; proceeds surpassed $1,200.

ttree2.jpgNot content to rest on their laurels, The Friends began planning for a follow-up as soon as the holiday season came to a close. Scheduled for May 2019, this second pop-up event was Earth Day themed. (After all, what is a used book sale, if not recycling in action?)

For this spring reprisal, The Friends worked with the City to rent the historic Old Central School in Grant Rapids’ downtown district. They received the short-term use free of any charge.

This second sale ran a scant three hours: from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Even in that short window, The Friends pulled in an impressive $800.

Secondary benefits from the pop-up format are no less noteworthy, shared Friends president Mary Jo Wimmer. “The one-day, pop-up nature of this sale seemed less overwhelming to volunteers.” For that reason, The Friends’ call to action attracted an entirely new pool of helpers. These included students from a local parochial school, who provided valued set-up assistance.

Wimmer is confident that some of these new volunteers will reappear. “Many viewed the pop-ups more as a community service, than a sale, because the prices are all kept so affordable… We think that’s exactly the right mindset.”

Located between Saint Cloud and Hinckley, the town of Milaca is home to 3,000. While the local Milaca Community Library is heavily used, only a handful of those residents counts themselves as a bona fide Friend of the Library. As is the case in so many communities of this size, the Milaca Friends of the Library are always on the lookout for ways to change this.

milaca.pngEarlier this year, they stumbled on a perfect – albeit outside-the-box – pretext to interface with patrons face to face and share information about The Friends and what they do. They capitalized on a little-known holiday called “National Donut Day.”

National Donut Day is a silly tradition with serious roots. The Salvation Army created it back in 1938, as a yearly memorial to the droves of volunteers who followed American troops to Europe in World War I to bake and distribute comfort foods to the Allied forces.

Creativity notwithstanding, what might be most impressive about Milaca Friends of the Library’s effort is the speed at which they put this in-library celebration together. “We’ve been looking for ways to expand our membership, and make more people aware of the group in general,” explained organizer Ardy Becklin.

“We’ve toyed with doing three or four pop-up events each year, [part informational, part thematic fun], in hopes of getting into a cycle where people begin to look forward to the next one.”

Once someone suggested National Donut Day as the perfect, quirky tie-in for the kickoff pop-up session, there were only a few weeks left to plan.

First and foremost, The Friends explored all their options for acquiring a mammoth order of doughnuts. After bulk discounts, they purchased more than enough for a mere $48 – the only monetary expense associated with this event, as it happened.

national-doughnut-day.pngWhile there was no time to explore the possibility of outside community partnerships, library staff pitched in in several ways. They promoted the event heavily, especially during Milaca’s popular summer reading events. Staff also helped make sure the Library looked appropriately “festive.” Any and all books about doughnuts – be they cookbooks or children’s materials – were pulled from the stacks for display.

The Friends added to the ambiance with a giant inflatable inner tube (of a doughnut, what else?), posters, and printouts of book passages pertaining to the confection (such as a detailed description of pioneers baking the treat in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder).

When the big day – Friday, June 7 – came around, residents turned out in droves to learn about The Friends and indulge. This included a mix of patrons who had business at the library anyway, plus people who heard about it through grassroots promotions efforts.

Becklin says that the true impact of this event cannot be measured immediately. However, the experiment was promising enough that The Friends have already committed to doing subsequent pop-up, informational events in the near future.

Moreover, “all the doughnuts were picked up, which is surely a good sign!”

For nature science lovers, the area around Marine on St. Croix offers an embarrassment of riches. Located just south of the popular William O’Brien State Park along a scenic stretch of the St. Croix River, the township is home to the Minnesota chapter of Watchable Wildlife, a watershed research station, and the St. Croix River Association.

For their latest and greatest programming challenge, the Marine Library Association (MarLA) decided to lean into this strength by crafting a children’s nature science day camp. All activities and presenters drew from the impressive local resources already available in northern Washington County.

A team of six planners began preparations in February, in hopes of having an impressive curriculum – and a full class to enjoy it – by June. Registration opened almost immediately, in recognition of the fact that families begin plotting out their summer activities months ahead of time.

Next came presenter logistics. For special guests, the organizers tapped three local science teachers. They offered talks or demonstrations on solar energy, geology, and insects, respectively. In addition, a volunteer from the St. Croix River Association contributed a presentation on river health, and the nearby Warner Nature Center offered a popular program on reptiles and amphibians.

As a capstone experience, The Friends took their campers on a field trip to the Minnesota Food Association farm in Wilder Forest to learn about groundbreaking agricultural practices.

Even though the camp was new and the model untested, the inaugural Children’s Science and Art Camp reached capacity the same day registration opened to the public. Nearly all participants hailed from Marine or nearby Scandia.

The Friends felt that their camp was somewhat akin to a more traditional summer reading program – which the Library puts on at the same time. “We believe it is important to keep children active and learning during the summer months,” explained Board member Loralee DiLorenzo. 

On January 26, 2019, the notorious Northern Austin Mob Outfit faced off against their bitter rivals – the South Side Gangsters – on the neutral ground of the Austin Public Library.

mowever.pngIf this sounds more like an old story ripped from a bygone headline, that’s because it is… sort of. The Friends of the Austin Public Library manufactured this confrontation as a plotline in its inaugural Murder Mystery Dinner fundraiser.

These two gang syndicates never really existed, but the storied Prohibition Era in which they operated certainly did. When the Board of the Friends first floated themes back in June 2018, the Roaring Twenties stood out as the perfect backdrop for this inaugural program.

For historical verisimilitude, as well as cost effectiveness, The Friends then sought a community partner to co-host this fundraiser. After exploring all options, they entered into an agreement with the Hormel Historic Home (HHH). Located five minutes down the road from the Library, this Italianate residence was once home to George Albert Hormel, founder of the Hormel Foods Corporation. It operates today as an independent not-for-profit.

The match-up seemed logical to The Friends. They already collaborated with the HHH on a monthly series, the aptly named History Happy Hour. Past offerings have ranged from evenings with the likes of author Walt Whitman and 1880s baseball legend Billy Sunday, to off-site excursions – including walking and bus tours.

For the Murder Mystery Dinner, the Hormel Historic Home agreed to wave venue rental fees and to assist with ticketing.

In order to populate this 1920s version of Austin, organizers then turned to the Mower County theatre community. Approximately twenty actors from the Summerset Community Theatre and Riverland Community College theatre department agreed to take part, free of charge.

In yet another move to control costs, The Friends opted to offer hors d’oeuvres in place of a full, plated dinner.

In a cheeky nod to Prohibition theme, they branded a cash bar as a speakeasy, and discreetly offered each attendee a teacup of champagne. The caterer not only played along, but offered The Friends a 20 percent discount off their services as a donation to the organization.

mysteryhormel.jpg

Tickets to the Murder Mystery Dinner sold out in less than two weeks, thanks in part to aggressive advertising supplied by the HHH. Radio promotions, plus a poster campaign around Austin, also played a role. All told, the night netted a profit of $923 to The Friends.

“The number one surprise was seeing how many people wanted to come again – and how many who didn’t attend and want us to do it again after hearing how much fun the night was,” said organizer Bethie Carlton.

They may indeed reprise the event at some point… which doesn’t augur well for the new and fragile accord between the Northern Austin Mob Outfit and South Side Gangsters!

The Red Wing Public Library dates back, in some shape and form, to 1893. That original incarnation of the beloved public institution - much like the young river town itself - would be unrecognizable to modern denizens of Red Wing.

goodhue2.pngThe one-room library did not circulate its materials, and patrons were not allowed to browse the stacks. The sole staffer (paid $300/year in 1893 dollars) retrieved materials upon request. This made research inherently difficult, as the library lacked a card catalog to point them in the right direction. (However, a printed manifest was available, but only for purchase!)

In late 2017, the Board of Trustees approached the Friends of the Red Wing Public Library about collaborating on a historical project to profile this and the many subsequent chapters of the Library’s long history. In point of fact, background work for a hoped-for book had already commenced. However, the Library lacked the wherewithal to give the volume a professional veneer, acquire the rights to appropriate illustrations, and get it published.

After some back and forth, The Friends agreed to spearhead a special fundraising push to hire a research historian and shepherd the project to completion.

Phase I required collecting $2,500 to hire the needed contractual help. As a means to that end The Friends’ standing fundraising committee drafted a targeted mailing teasing the long, untold history of the library – and summarizing The Friends’ own long track record for championing value-added projects of exactly this sort. After expenses, this campaign netted $2,599.

redwing.jpgGoing a step further, The Friends also researched and interviewed potential historians, to find just the right partner for the book. Ultimately, they landed on Char Henn, a Red Wing local and director of the Red Wing Pottery Museum – a subject matter expert if ever there were one.

Galvanized by that early success, The Friends opted to continue their support of the publication project with a special event: a harvest-themed autumn tea party and silent auction. Keynoted by Ms. Henn and Minnesota romance writer Lizbeth Selvig.

Friends volunteers worked overtime to make the tea event as cost-effective as possible. Christ Episcopal Church, located down the street from the Library, offered their spacious dining room, kitchens, and A/V equipment free of charge. Local businesses supplied each of the auction offerings.

In lieu of working with an expensive off-site printer, The Friends convinced the Library to allow for flyers, invitations, and other promotional pieces to be printed in house on the facility’s own computers (with cost defrayed by The Friends). This cut down markedly on the print publicity budget.

"The overarching objective was to raise funds for writing and publishing our history of Red Wing Public Library. This was the promise we had made," reiterated project lead Lois Burnes.

"During the planning process, however, it became clear that this fundraising format could be repeated annually." They intend to do just that, with the proceeds benefitting their Library in other needed ways.

Between the annual MLA conference in September, MALF’s seasonal workshops in October, and Give to the Max Day in November, fall is going to be a busy time for Friends of the Library in Minnesota. Even so, it’s important to remember what is happening on the national stage, as well. October 20-26 is 2019 National Friends of Libraries Week!

Friends of Libraries Week is sponsored and coordinated by United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association and MALF’s national counterpart. Its two-fold purpose is to: (1) foster an environment conducive to promoting your Friends group and its projects, while also (2) offering an opportunity for your library, Board of Trustees and community officials to recognize your group for its ongoing support.

To these ends, United for Libraries has posted on its website a number of stories and downloadable resources to help you get started.
 Click here for posters, sample letters to the editor, template public proclamations, and much much more.

As those who have participated in previous years already know, this week-long celebration is an extremely customizable one. Apart from the overall mission sketched out above, appropriate ways to celebrate Friends of Libraries Week are nearly as many and varied as are Friends groups! In years past, these have ranged from the simple and straightforward, like week-long membership campaigns and fundraising drives, to the unexpected and sometimes 
wacky – like an in-library demonstration from a world champion chocolate strawberry dipper!

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