Libraries in the United States receive over a billion visits every year, so there are obviously a lot of library users out there. Why, then, am I always reading about libraries fighting for their very survival? The answer, in my opinion, is that most library users do not understand that without their active support, they will eventually have no libraries left to visit. Consequently, here are five simple ways to make sure that trouble and your library never meet:
1. Visit Regularly
The easiest one is what most library supporters already do. It is the reason libraries have over a billion visits and circulate double that amount of items. That said, if you haven’t been to the library in a while, do drop in. Libraries are always adding surprising new services — Why not try something different? Attend a lecture, concert, or workshop, spend a quiet afternoon perusing magazines, take your work off-site for a day (libraries are ideal places to labor). There’s so much you can do at the library!
2. Join the Friends of the Library or the Foundation
Most libraries have support organizations whose mission is to raise money directly benefiting the library. Friends of the Library groups are typically the most active, local proponents of the library — traditionally, they host booksales, run a small gift shop, or organize mixers. Joining or donating to a Friends group is usually very low-key and requires little in terms of time commitment (they’ll be happy with whatever you can do or give). But the results are tremendous! Many libraries are able to pay for programming solely due to the support of their Friends group.
Foundations are more hands-off groups — they also raise money, but do so on a grander scale to fund large projects. By way of example, while a Friends group may fund a $250 program, a Library Foundation would be more likely to work on a $15,000 computer upgrade or the creation of a Small Business Center (complete with potential naming rights). Consequently, if you are a successful business owner with little time on your hands but a desire to serve the community, working with a Library Foundation would be the way to go. They are well-equipped to handle large monetary or in-kind donations, and can advise about other sponsorship opportunities.
3. Send a Letter to Your Elected Officials
Here’s a 30-minute way to make a monumental difference: Send a letter to your elected officials extolling the life-changing influence of your library. It doesn’t have to be long or complex; a few paragraphs and your signature are just right. Why is this vital? Because many elected officials may not have the time or interest to learn how outstanding their libraries are. So when budget time comes around, they have little evidence with which to weigh library funding. A yearly letter from an actual constituent reminding them that libraries are a smart investment is a lot more persuasive than library staff reports, even if both say the same thing.
Want to go a step further? Organize a letter-writing tea party! It’s easy: Invite a few local library lovers, give them stamps, envelopes, pen and paper, and put on the kettle!
4. Support EveryLibrary
While it’s true that most tax-supported municipal public libraries are funded locally, that is far from the end of the story when it comes to keeping libraries going. EveryLibrary is the only national organization that rallies people around libraries. Friends groups, Foundations, and the American Library Association (ALA) are severely limited in the political arena due to their tax status. Not EveryLibrary, which is a 501(c)4. Simply put: What the NRA is for gun folks, EveryLibrary is for libraries.
So what exactly does EveryLibrary do? First of all, EveryLibrary provides training and support to any library in the United States that has a referendum or measure on the ballot and asks for assistance. Second, they raise public awareness about the important roles libraries play in people’s lives (see many examples of this at the EveryLibrary Medium Magazine). Third, they help bring justice for libraries and librarians by leading mail-in and other direct action campaigns. If you want to learn more click here.
Note: I am an advisor to EveryLibrary and Contributing Editor to the EveryLibrary Magazine on Medium. I volunteer my time at these roles because I believe in EveryLibrary’s mission and feel that their work is important.
5. Spread the Word
The final way you can help libraries stay around forever is simply by spreading the word about how awesome libraries are! When you see a library article in the media, share it on your feeds and tell your friends about it. If your local library has a social media presence, follow them, share their successes, and interact with their posts! And when you see nay-sayers poo-pooing libraries, put them in their place (this handy guide can help).
One of the biggest challenges for libraries is getting the word out about their many services. While big companies have multi-million dollar marketing budgets, libraries do the best they can stretching every cent to serve the public. So lend a hand and spread the word!
These five steps aren’t the only things you can do to keep libraries around forever, but they’re a quick and excellent start at actively supporting the institution you love!