2021 National Friends of Libraries Week

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Posted by jim

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

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Posted by jim

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

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Posted by jim under Grants & Awards

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.