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And the Winner is…. Friends of the Cambridge Public Library!

“Saving the Library Budget” Wins Cambridge the 2013 Evy Nordley Award

On October 11, as is tradition, MALF used Library Friends Day (part of the MLA Conference) as a platform to announce and congratulate the winner of our most prestigious annual prize: the Evy Nordley Award for ‘Best Project by Friends of the Library.’

Not surprisingly, given the devotion and ingenuity to found in the Minnesota Friends community, competition was stiff. This year’s winner, Friends of the Cambridge (Minn.) Public Library (“Saving the Library Budget”), stood out for showing – both in words and in action – that you don’t have to fly to Washington D.C. to lobby effectively on behalf of libraries.

Cambridge: “Saving the Library Budget.” The Cambridge Public Library is part of the 6-county, 14-branch East Central Regional Library (ECRL) system. ECRL is governed by a Joint Powers Agreement specifying that each member county must provide its full share of the annual ‘umbrella’ operating budget – or else face cuts the next fiscal year.

In 2011, Isanti County’s Commissioners opted to cut their share of the ECRL budget by $34,000. As a consequence, Cambridge (the county’s only public library) saw a reduction from 57 to 43 weekly operating hours. More troubling still, the decision also necessitated cutting six part-time library staff positions and closing the facility entirely on Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The Friends of the Cambridge Library quickly but judiciously determined that they could provide assistance on two fronts: helping close the 2012 budget gap, in the short term; and convincing the County to revert to the previous funding level, in the longer term.

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They tackled the first goal with gusto. Fundraising efforts ranged widely. Tactics included a letter campaign, petitions in the media, and donation jars in prominent places within the library. In total, they raised well over $5,000, enough to restore the summer hours – with some left over to put towards badly needed new furniture, to boot!

Almost immediately after the budget reduction announcement, Friends treasurer Karen Lee and others began making it a point to attend the County’s open meetings with regularity. This ensured that library funding remained top-of-mind for the County Commissioners.

Simultaneously, in hopes of securing a more viable budget for 2013, the Friends began making their case to government officials.

They also spearheaded a grassroots public relation campaign, of sorts, to get the larger community (by and large fans of the library, even if not formally ‘Friends’) to voice their displeasure with the new status quo. Prominent among other efforts, they produced an informational flyer and mailed it to over 250 area households and businesses. In it, they made clear what the expenditures reduction meant for the library. The Friends encouraged recipients to forward on the information widely – and the community’s response surpassed nearly all expectations.

Finally, at its September 5, 2012, meeting, the Isanti County Commissioners voted to fully fund the county’s share of the 2013 budget. One Commissioner stated: “I’ve never had more of a reaction from the public than I have on this.” Effective January 2013, the Cambridge Public Library is back to full staffing and operational hours.

MALF’s Evy Nordley judging committee singled out the Cambridge Friends for their multifaceted, two-stage approach to an exceedingly complex issue. As an award nominee, its merits are almost too numerous to list. Foremost, at in the eyes of the judges, is the fact that it is replicable – a fundamental Evy Nordley criterion. We sincerely hope library systems elsewhere in Minnesota never face a budgetary crisis like this one. If you do, though, there’s hope… and your “Friends” in Cambridge have some great advice for you.
 

Evy Nordley Certificates of Recognition Recipients: Friends of the Duluth and Two Harbors libraries

As we said, award competition was stiff; 2012 was, overall, an exemplary year for Minnesota’s Friends groups. Our two runners-up (recipients each of $250 and a Certificate of Recognition) are particularly good illustrations.

Duluth_Laura_Bergen.jpgDuluth: “Inaugural Author Series Event.” Next to the traditional used book sale, an author event may be Friends of the Library’s favorite fundraising technique. Precious few, however, can do so as cost effectively as the Friends of Duluth Public Library – let alone bring in a New York Times bestselling author to headline.

It began when President Linda Hanson and her colleagues began looking for a way to put on a public event well suited not only to raise funds for the library, but to increase public awareness of the Friends at the same time. The idea for an author series of some sort quickly gained traction.

The Friends found an impressive partner for their debut event: William Kent Krueger, the award-winning author behind the popular Cork O’Connor series (set in Minnesota). Krueger agreed not only to speak in Duluth, but to use the Friends event as the platform to debut his newest novel, Trickster’s Point, for the very first time in northern Minnesota.

Tickets were pre-sold for $20. The Friends hoped to sell an even 150 tickets, but ultimately sold 186!

More impressive still, the Friends worked tirelessly throughout the summer (up to and including the September 17 event date) to see that the show was 100 percent funded through local sponsorships and sales. With ticket sales, net proceeds surpassed the $5,000 mark.

Everyone reported having a good time (William Kent Krueger included). One lucky attendee, whose name Mr. Krueger drew from a hat, even came away with a promise that he would be featured as a minor character in the next Cork O’Connor story.

Two Harbors: “Love Your Library.” Meanwhile, thirty miles up the road, the Friends of the Two Harbor Library tackled their own ambitious inaugural public event.

Two_Harbors_Micky_McGilligan.jpgTwo Harbors is currently in the midst of a costly library remodeling project. The Friends elected to contribute to this fund through a large silent auction. After many hours of phone calls and leg work by Friends volunteers, over 100 community members (private and corporate) either donated items for the auction or contributed money to help offset costs.

Wanting the caliber of their fundraiser to match the scope of the remodeling project, the Friends didn’t stop there. They also coordinated a whole night’s worth of entertainment to go with the auction. Live music, poetry readings, and a dessert bar drew in a crowd from all over Lake County.

The fundraiser, dubbed the "Love Your Library Celebration," also saw monetary success. By the end of the night, $3,000 had been raised. Two Harbors is one step closer to having the library facility the community deserves!

Photo Captions: MALF President Mary Ann Bernat congratulates Karen Lee (for the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library), Micky McGilligan (for the Friends of the Two Harbors Library), and Laura Bergen (for the Friends of the Duluth Public Library).