Originally published in the North Port Sun Herald and Englewood Sun Herald
The week of Oct. 21 is cause for a celebration. It’s National Friends of the Library Week, an opportunity to showcase the enormous contributions of our energetic, dedicated library volunteers. We applaud the 2,300 Friends’ members who donated more than 96,000 hours of their time to our libraries in 2011. Our library system simply could not survive without them.
Each of the nine Sarasota County libraries has established Friends organizations. Each is a separate nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization, working in concert with our library system and the community.
The Friends organizations are dedicated to raising private money and increasing public awareness to support our libraries. Funds are raised by sale of gently used books in the Friends book shops, membership dues and donations, and special events. The Friends use their funds to support programs for children and adults, purchase books, e-books and new technology, and provide enhancements for which public funds are not available.
Are there other benefits to the library besides money that Friends provide? Absolutely.
Friends are called “Friends” for a very good reason. The best libraries in the country have tremendous community support. When our libraries work actively with Friends, powerful library advocates are grown. No one knows better than a Friend that strong libraries raise the quality of life in our community and create a positive legacy for future generations.
We are very lucky to have such an outstanding library system. Our Sarasota County Library was recognized as 2012 Library of the Year by the Florida Library Association for innovation and commitment to customer service. The Friends play a vital role in defining the library excellence that we all can enjoy.
Libraries need Friends now, more than ever. In this challenging economy, county library funding has decreased while usage and demand has increased — including 20,000 new library cardholders last year. The Friends have been critical in helping our libraries weather these times. Volunteer hours were valued at almost $2 million in 2011, for services not funded by our tax dollars. Along with library staff, the Friends are the backbone of our library system.
Whether you are a library user or simply support public libraries as a part of a strong community, this is a good time to consider joining the Friends group at your library. Stop by your nearest Friends bookstore or visit www.sclibs.net and click on Friends. A fun and interesting Friends world awaits you.
Mary Byrd has been President of the Friends of the North Port Library since 2008. She wrote this column on behalf of the Friends Alliance which represents all nine Sarasota County Libraries.