Backstage Library Works
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Funding Comes Around: How Some Libraries Overcome Limitations in Budgets

National Library Week 2023’s theme is “There’s More to the Story,” and the depth of that statement goes further than many patrons realize. Among a host of other services, libraries help members of their communities find jobs, connect with loved ones, put food on the table, educate seniors on new technology, give refuge during rough weather, and provide a doorway to the world. Our local Bethlehem Area Public Library’s social media feed is constantly full of after-school events, learning opportunities; meet-up events for people of all ages and interests and backgrounds; STEM, music, crafting, film, philosophy, memoir events. And, under the surface, libraries are frequently, quietly, servicing the needs of those at risk – those facing homelessness, those displaced, and those without a safe place to work, study, and spend their time.

Library budgets are tight, and in some places these budgets are growing tighter with each year. The news these last few months particularly has highlighted the thousands and millions of dollars being slashed in certain regions. Voting is always the first step to securing funding for libraries and other “third places” – those environments that are not a person’s home or work and which support the growth of communities, social commentary, and diverse relationships.

That said, librarians remain as outgoing, resourceful, and solution-oriented as ever they have been. Besides grants and donations from patrons, we discovered some of the creative ways libraries have approached fundraising in recent years.

Library Mini Golf

We’ll admit, when we first saw this idea, it seemed like something that could be tough to pull off. If you’re thinking of trying it out but need a little help, Trumbull Library Foundation can help! Their story started in 2006 when they hosted their first mini golf event to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and it was a huge success. Since then, they’ve helped to host more than 500 events in 27 states raising over $5 million in donations! Get more information at Library Mini Golf.

Adopt a “_”

The possibilities here are abundant and the price ranges can vary greatly. From something as simple as a book plate with the donor’s name to a small, printed plaque next to some artwork – or even as large as sponsoring a wing of the library, patrons can leave their mark on a piece of the library. A great example of this is the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, PA. They have an Adopt an Artifact Program with donations ranging from $100-$5,000. These funds go on to support museum and education initiatives and make a community feel a part of the preservation process.

Book Sales

Libraries will sometimes turn parts of book collection donations, or those materials pruned through deaccessioning, around for sale. Massanutten Regional Library goes so far as to dedicate a room towards this project and runs quarterly sales, incentivizing community members to explore the store stacks. We’re sure many of you have been on a walk and noticed a “book sale” sign outside your local library, head craned in interest. And, if you’re like us, you’ve snuck away a few dollars lighter and a few books richer.

Library Wish Lists

Does your local library have a wish list? There are several online stores that allow for registries and wish lists, and you can fill simple needs at your library when they list things like reems of paper, paper goods and sanitary supplies for bathrooms, and more. From printer ink to gel pens to little quality-of-life improvements around the library, ask your local librarian if there’s a place you can consult these donation needs. If they don’t already, you may also encourage them to share those lists on social media – make sure to share those posts. It takes a village!

Community Events

Greentown Library hosted an interesting fundraiser featuring community-designed scarecrows and a voting process that generated $1 per vote. Combining creativity with community enrichment, ideas such as these showcase just how special libraries are. Since libraries already provide space for local groups to meet and hang out, it would be a natural step to host some culminating event or showcase, the admission or voting proceeds of which goes towards fundraising.

Let’s Refocus

The list of potential fundraising avenues goes on and on: with New York Public Library hosting annual luncheons, a spelling bee for adult contestants at the Patten Free Library, and even a pothole-filling service with proceeds going to the Berryville Library Building Project, we see librarians rising to the challenge of the 21st century financial and political world.

In this local news report regarding the Massanutten Regional Library’s fundraising efforts, WHSV3 quoted Library Director of Advancement Mary Golden-Hughs as saying, “Annually about $200,000 is needed to be raised to keep the library sustained, keep new items on the shelves, and get new programs…” She also states that “most funding comes from the localities of those branches, and creative fundraising efforts come after.”

Librarians are incredible for the thought and passion they pour into their planning, programming, and budgeting. The greatest help we can be in our communities is to advocate for and support local libraries, giving them the time to focus on tasks beyond financial. It may also be possible for you and an organization you’re a part of to recommend a fundraising event and supply a donation to furnish it – such as the donation of art that helped, in its gallery and sale, to fund a new Makerplace.

While fundraising opportunities are very neat, they do take a lot of time to plan and put into practice – time which librarians could be spending doing something else. Librarians aren’t the only ones responsible for stewarding our shared histories and communities. Get involved! Help make a difference! And be a real, thriving part of what “more” there is “to the story.”

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