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2021 National Friends of Libraries Week

Posted by jim on September 20, 2021

National Friends of Libraries Week is fast approaching! Mark your calendars for October 17-23, 2021.

What is Friends of Libraries Week? It might be best described as a yearly celebration of all that Friends do for their libraries and communities. United for Libraries, the Friends arm of the American Library Association, first conceptualized it as a springboard for fundraising campaigns, membership recruitment, and general Friends recognition.

There is no wrong way to celebrate. Creative examples include:


✔ a large-scale and themed “coupon” giveaway in Escanaba, Michigan, which induced hundreds of residents to visit a Friends book sale for the very first time;

✔ a Pirate’s Treasure Party in Conroe, Texas (where, spoiler alert, the “pirates” declared the library’s collections as the town’s most prized treasure);

✔ a “gnomination” campaign in Mansfield, Texas, where Friends encouraged friends and neighbors to join the ranks with a membership information packet delivered to their doorstep - with a garden gnome as its courier and paperweight!

Each of these projects, and dozens more besides, have won one of United for Libraries’ annual Friends of Libraries Week Awards. It comes with a cash prize and major national kudos.
 Click here to learn more about the 2021 awards cycle, and be sure to get your bid in by the December 3 deadline.

Not ready to try something on quite this scale? Don’t worry. United for Libraries has a wide variety of replicable ideas, templates, and other resources
 on their website for you to peruse. Happy planning!

2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #4: Grand Rapids

Posted by jim on September 14, 2021

Grand Rapids Area Library is among the handful in Minnesota that boasts a permanent Friends bookstore on site. Ordinarily, this year-round stream of income is the Friends’ “golden goose,” with proceeds bankrolling much of what the organization does for the Library. When the pandemic brought an abrupt and protracted halt to sales, however, the board realized they needed to think beyond their comfort zone.  

Ironically, the Friends did not have to travel or look far for their Big Idea; all they had to do was step outside the Library. Grand Rapids Area Library’s exterior façade is graced by a massive mural of a chickadee. It is one of several naturescapes by Carlton County artist Adam Swanson that can be found in and around Grand Rapids.

In January 2020, a Friends task force approached Mr. Swanson about profiling his iconic work on a series of Friends-branded notecards. He agreed to this novel partnership, and under generous terms; for every $20 box that the group sold, he would take a $4.50 commission.

Even with this green light, the Friends faced a number of choices and challenges. First, which of the decorated artist’s works would they profile? They ultimately decided to double down on the Northland theme, which is a favorite of Swanson’s. In addition to the famous library chickadee, each packet of eight cards features a wolf, black bear, moose, and other animals native to the area.

When it came to printing, organizers opted to keep their money local and partner with a Grand Rapids vendor. They recouped some of these higher production costs by securing clever in-kind donations, such as transparent corsage bags from the local florist to “box” the card sets.

Promotion and distribution proved the biggest puzzlers of all, given the Library’s prolonged closure. As a workaround, volunteers secured permission to conduct sales out of the building’s drive-up window. They then spread the news as widely as possible, including with a front-page mention in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

Grand Rapids Area Friends hit their production targets in time to roll out the new fundraiser for the 2020 holiday season. In all, they netted an impressive $2,500 – not bad for a “Plan B” fundraiser. They hope to build on this debut effort in advance of the 2021 holiday season.

2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #3: Austin

Posted by jim on September 7, 2021

Flamingoes may be native to Florida and the Caribbean; but over the past year, the distinctive pink birds have made quite a squawk across Austin, Minnesota. Bewildered and amused residents have the local Friends of the Library to thank.

Board members Elizabeth Carlton, Morgan Carlson and Kristie Mickelson devised their alliteratively named “Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser” in fall 2020. They did so with two goals in mind. Foremost, the Friends wanted to raise awareness for both their organization and the Library itself. Second, they hoped to add a little levity to their community in a year defined by a pandemic and contentious election. On both these counts, springing roving bands of gaudy birds on unsuspecting neighbors proved as effective as it was creative!

As a secondary benefit, Flockin’ Flamingoes also proved a surprisingly lucrative fundraiser. “We were able to borrow the majority of our flamingoes, which really helped with our overall budget,” explained Carlton. In all, the Friends purchased only 40 of the iconic yard decorations, but mustered a gaggle of almost 100.

Donors had the opportunity to “hire” flamingoes in batches of one, two or three dozen – up to a maximum tier of 60 plastic birds. They then selected a friend, family member or co-worker to be the recipient or target (depending on one’s point of view) of this avian attention.

Friends of the Library maintained the deployment schedule, and shuttled the flamingoes where they needed to go in the dead of night. They also designed weatherized, corrugated signs to accompany the birds, explain their purpose, and inform passersby where they could learn more.

For its pilot season, Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser ran from October 12 to November 22. In that time, the Friends took no break days and fulfilled a total of 79 orders. “We actually had to stop accepting orders around October 26, because I had serious concerns about not being able to complete them all before the ground got too hard,” Carlton shared.

Austin Friends of the Library’s experiment netted $1,985 in proceeds and considerable buzz in the community. As one metric of the latter, flamingo-focused posts on Facebook consistently reached 500 people a day – a significant boost over normal levels.

Unsurprisingly, the group is already laying groundwork for the return of the now-infamous Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser. Among other tweaks to the model, they intend to start earlier in the summer, to get the most out of their “birding season” before the first winter snowfall makes staking impossible.

2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #2: Detroit Lakes

Posted by jim on August 30, 2021

We hope you will join us at 'Saturday Splash' on October 9 to hear presentations from each of this year's Evy Nordley finalist projects (plus the live winner announcement). In the run-up to that event, MALF is pleased to shine the spotlight on each of these exemplary projects – one at a time. Next up:

Becker County Friends of the Library | "Unlimited Possibilities"

As you can glean from the name, denizens of Detroit Lakes consider lake life to be a core part of their identity. This goes double in summertime, when seasonal residents and tourists balloon the City’s population by as much as 40 percent. For this reason, the area’s lake amenities took center stage in Detroit Lakes’ recent Sesquicentennial commemoration.

As a cornerstone of this anniversary celebration, a coalition of community stakeholders came together to launch “150 Sails Up in DL.” In this ambitious public art project, organizations of all kinds sponsored and collaborated with area artists on the creation of 150 sailboat sculptures.

Each boat is made of steel and concrete and measures either 4 feet or approx. 2 feet in height. However, each is truly one of a kind. Themes and styles run the gamut, with subjects as disparate as loons, sunsets, agates, pizza and popsicles coming together to tell a cohesive story about life in Detroit Lakes.

Becker County Friends of the Library partnered on not one but two of the most popular sailboat sculptures. These include “Unlimited Curiosity,” a stained-glass mosaic created by Detroit Lakes artist Becky Mitchell. It now graces the exterior of the historic Carnegie Library and invites passersby into this place of learning and discovery.

For the library’s interior, Friends and staff partnered with artist Eric A. Johnson on a 20’’ sculpture christened “Gohn Be Funky From Now On.” A medley of colors and shapes, this smaller sailboat is a sort of Rorschach test that encourages kids to use their imagination. Both installations debuted in early April at a Sailboat Regatta Party, the tentpole event of the Detroit Lakes Sesquicentennial. They then moved to the Detroit Lakes Public Library, where both will be on display through December 2021.

The Friends of the Library smashed their initial fundraising goal for this endeavor in just ten days. This enabled them to rent a third sailboat sculpture. “We The People,” by Erinn Prischmann Webb, features Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now graces the library’s YA section.

“We hope to see an increase in traffic inside the library,” explained co-organizer Terry Kalil. “The greater goal, though, is to inspire creativity in all who view our sailboats… and demonstrate Detroit Lakes Public Library’s role as a leading education and culture center in our community.”

2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #1: Cook

Posted by jim on August 25, 2021

The Seattle Public Library is commonly credited with creating the “One Book” or “Community Read” program model in the late 1990s. In the two decades since, major American cities from San Francisco to New York City have followed suit by creating their own beloved One Book initiatives. However, community read programs are not just the purview of large and urban communities, as small Cook, Minnesota can attest.

Cook is a town of 500 residents located deep in Saint Louis County, about halfway between Duluth and the Canadian border. During the summer months, Lake Vermillion area cabin dwellers swell the Cook Public Library’s small service area. During this high tide, staff are fortunate to have hands-on support from local Friends of the Library, who take on a range of volunteer duties within the tiny, 1,350-square-foot library.

In the winter, however, the Library has the polar opposite problem – pun intended. Once the weather cools, the patron base shrinks. It can be difficult for staff to find new amusements to engage and enrich year-round residents as the community waits for the spring thaw. As one means to that end, librarian Crystal Phillips suggested a Community Read.

The Friends did not pick a featured title – at least not directly. Instead, they oversaw a bracket vote that allowed residents to choose from 104 books. Administered at the library over the course of 16 weeks, the voting system drew 1,428 ballots. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie eventually emerged as the winning title.

The Friends purchased 20 new copies of this old classic for giveaways and library circulation. In true Community Reads fashion, while the organizers incorporated a book club into the festivities, that was only a beginning. Other highlights included special movie screens of Death on the Nile (2004) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), with viewing licenses paid for by The Friends.

As the capstone event, Cook Public Library also hoped to hold an interactive murder mystery event on site. Sadly, COVID-19 gathering restrictions forced the cancellation of this last component.

Despite that setback, organizers consider Cook’s inaugural One Book program a great success. After all, 1,428 ballots cast is a tremendous accomplishment for a library in a town of 500!