Wednesday, November 17, 2021

#NYLA2021: ABCs of Best Practices for Friends Groups

Libraries: We're all in logo

This year, the New York Library Association held its annual conference in both virtual (Oct. 28-29) and in-person (Nov. 3-6) formats, as well as having on-demand content. Below are notes from one of the virtual sessions.


Every Friends of the Library group can learn from their peers. Ideas ripe for the picking abound in successful, thriving Friends organizations! Learn some outstanding ways to market your group, keep membership numbers growing, engage your community with your activities, and raise some money, all by borrowing tips and creative tricks from Friends groups large and small. Come prepared to add your own “letters” into this alphabet stew. Together we’ll highlight noteworthy advice, best habits to adopt, and practical ways to keep Friends successful in their important work.



Lisa Wemett organized her talk by using the ABCs, with each letter focusing on something a friends groups should do. Sometimes she was quite creative!
  • A - Have an Annual Report that shares your success.
  • A - Engage in Advocacy and helped heighten the visibility of your library.
  • B - Many friends groups have Book Sales or a Bookstore. These are one way to engage people in supporting the library. 
    • Use your website to show people how easy it is to donate to the library (whether its books or something else). 
    • Frame book or other donations using positive language, rather than talking about what you don't want. 
    • For book donations, provide information on recycling centers or thrift stores that might take donations that the friends cannot take.
  • C - Communications. 
    • Communicate with staff, so the staff can inform the community about what the friends are doing and so the friends can talk about what the library is doing.
    • Have liaisons between the friends, staff, and board of trustees. 
    • Effective communications is crucial. It should be frequent and clear.
  • D - Donors. Some friends groups have dues.  However, it is about how many people are supporting the friends. Consider creating dues and donor categories. You might think of book-themed categories.
    • Have 501(c)(3) status
    • Be sure to thank donors
  • E - Engaging with your community. In some communities, the friends help connect the library with people who cannot physically come to the library.
    • Use social media to talk abut what you're doing or what the library is doing.
  • F - Fundraising
    • Be creative
    • Diversify your revenue streams
    • Consider having a "Library Giving Day". That idea was begun in Seattle during National Library Week.
    • Have ways for people to donate online.
  • F - If you're in New York State, join the Friends of Library Section of NYLA. FYI Their past newsletters are online.
  • F - Be Friendly.
  • G - Gather Good ideas from all over! Interact with other friends groups and learn from what they are doing.
  • Half Dozen Helpful Hints
    • Delegate
    • Review your organization's bylaws regularly
    • Don't be afraid to drop a friend, whose actions are working against what the friends group is doing.
    • Assemble a board book, so that the friends' board knows what it is supposed to do.
    • Understand if you need to collect sales tax.  There are times when that might be necessary.
    • If your group has nonprofit status, keep compliant with IRS regulations.
  • I - Stay Informed! Read the FLS Friends News and Notes newsletter (quarterly).
  • J - Join in! Be supportive members of other organizations in your community.
  • K - Keystone! Who is the keystone individual in your organization? Identify who that person is, what that person does, and how they person does it. Document that person's activities!
  • L - Little Free Libraries (LFL). This can dovetail nicely with what friends do. It is a free book exchange. Use your book donations to stock LFLs. This can lead to partnerships with other groups in your area.
  • M - Marketing. Market what you do. Reach out so more people know what you do. Use social media as well as earned media (e.g., newspapers).
  • M- Micro-volunteering. Help people engage with the friends by providing short-term volunteer opportunities when possible. Find uncomplicated and time time limited tasks for them to do.
  • N- Networking. Share ideas with like-minded volunteers.
  • N - New Initiatives. Be willing to try new things.
  • O - Online. Use your website to:
    • Provide information about the friends.
    • Gather donations (e.g., PayPal).
    • Give access to your membership form.
    • Have a way for people to sign-up to volunteer.
      • Tell the public exactly what you need.
      • Consider also using Volunteer Match (
      • Besides recruiting online, post info on community bulletin boards.
    • Provide the friends contact information.
    • Be transparent.
    • Show the diversity of the community you serve.
  • P - Partnerships. Involve like-minded community groups or businesses.
  • Q - Quantifiable. Quantify your impact. 
    • Wemett mentioned quantifying your participation rate. What is that? Your participation rate for the friends group Equals the Number of friends members Divided by the Number of people in the library's service area. Strive for a rate of 1% or higher.
  • R - Recognition. Recognize your volunteers. 
    • Thank your volunteers frequently.
  • R - Recruitment.
  • S - Succession Planning. Friends groups that thrive are intentional about who will be stepping into leadership roles. 
    • Let the community know that you are looking for leaders.
    • Have job descriptions for your leadership roles.
  • T - Teamwork. Consider if you want to use alternate leadership models for the friends group.
  • U - Underwriting. Remind your community what the friends are underwriting (or funding) for the library.
  • U - There is a larger friends organization called United for Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association.
  • V - Visibility. Find creative ways of being visible in tour community.
  • V - Volunteers. Friends are professional grade volunteers. Volunteers are priceless!
  • W - Webpages. Consider having a tab on the library's website, in addition to having your own website.
    • Also from the friends website, point to the library's website.
  • X - Extras. The friends supplement the library's budget. Fund the extras.
  • Y - Youth. Every friends group wants younger volunteers. Perhaps the library's teen advisory board is a place to find volunteers from the friends.
    • Perhaps there are area youth groups that are looking for volunteer opportunities.
  • Z - ZZZZs (sleep) No, lots of information in the presentation that kept everyone awake!

Final Thoughts

It has only been in the last several months that I have begun to think deeply about friends groups. I've learned that they are not all the same, however, they do all have things in common and they can learn from each other.

While it doesn't stand out above, a friends group needs to work with the library's trustees and the library staff. Those relationships should be formal (e.g., MOU) and informal.  It's important to eleiminate assumptions.

Finally, the number of times Wemett mentioned the friends website really stands out to me. Having an online presence is important and the friends should use it to the fullest.

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