2020 Evy Nordley Finalist #2: Friends of the Isanti Area Library

fial.jpgIn addition to more than 350 brick-and-mortar public libraries, Minnesota is home to dozens of bookmobiles and outreach stations. Satellite service sites like these are necessary to extending regular library service to residents in Minnesota’s most rural areas. The compact Isanti Outreach Library (part of the East Central Regional Library) is a perfect example.

Outsiders could be forgiven for not expecting anything beyond the minimum from Isanti Outreach Library. It is tucked into one corner of Isanti City Hall, has just one computer terminal, and is open only four hours a week. In many ways, however, this Library hits beyond its weight class. The Friends of the Isanti Area Library (FIAL) and their periodic book sales are one reason why.

While book sales are of course a Friends fundraiser staple, we’re not aware of any before now that have been held in a bowling alley!  

It wasn’t always this way. Lacking spaces within their modest Library to organize and display materials, FIAL hosted their first five annual sales inside a member’s home. Once the materials on offer approached 4,000 (in a town of 5,200, mind you!), this venue became untenable.

Mike Warring, owner Bowling Junction, sits on the board of the Friends. For the sixth annual sale – held in February 2019 in conjunction with I Love to Read Month – the Friends set up shop at this popular community establishment on the north side of Isanti.

FIAL Book Sale MW.jpegWishing to optimize the added square footage and “plus” the event, FIAL invited area authors to set up tables around the periphery of the book sale for meet-and-greets and signings.

This move drew book lovers who do not frequent book sales as a general rule. FIAL’s strategic pricing structure also drew in browsers from every adjoining county and beyond.

“We sold all materials for 25 cents each. When asked why we didn’t charge more, we reminded people that our primary goal is getting books into the hands of citizens – making money is secondary. For example, I saw one mother with three children at the sale. She told them they could each choose only one book, because that’s what she could afford. If we charged even 50 cents, those children could have missed out.”

At the same time, however, volunteers manning checkout encouraged buyers able to do so to donate to FIAL beyond this base fee. Consequently, revenue on the 1,700 items sold was substantial by the standards of a rural outreach library.

FIAL will use the proceeds in expand their community reach in the coming year. Among other uses, they intend to purchase Give & Take Bookshelves (somewhat like a Little Free Libraries) for installation within various community businesses.