With a Little Help from Our Friends

It's time to develop a new mix of knowledge

September 22, 2010

Following my return in August from the 76th International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions General Conference and Assembly in Gothenburg, Sweden, I was interviewed on two successive days about the state of America’s libraries by David Graham of Newsweek and Bob Edwards of Sirius XM Radio. I was heartened by the interest of the two national media outlets in hearing how libraries are serving their communities in these difficult economic times and the impact on libraries of decreased state and local revenues. We discussed shuttered facilities and, as has occurred in so many cases, staff reductions and the hours libraries are open as well as the smaller number of books and other items being purchased for collections.

Both interviewers wanted to know what funding options libraries are exploring to cope with the situation, which unfortunately appears unlikely to turn around anytime soon. I talked about my Frontline Fundraising presidential initiative. When I discussed a fundraising initiative during my campaign, it was primarily targeted at helping small and rural libraries establish planned giving programs. I envisioned an online toolkit with a template of guidance and support materials that libraries could use to reach out to their users. Many people neither know how best to make the ask for funding or don’t feel comfortable doing so. Reminding customers to think about including the library in plans for distributing their estate is a soft touch or less direct approach to raising money.

However, Peter Pearson, president of the Friends of the St. Paul (Minn.) Public Library, and the team working on Frontline Fundraising wisely broadened its scope. The final online package, scheduled for release after ALA’s 2011 Midwinter Meeting in San Diego in January, will also include information on conducting fundraising using trustees, library staff, and library Friends groups, developing a fundraising plan, developing an honor and memorial bookplate program, conducting an annual fund drive, developing online giving, and moving donors to the next level. Making this information easily accessible to libraries everywhere–small, medium, and large–could not have come at a better time.

As 21st-century librarians, we must add strategic planning, financial, human resource, and marketing skills to those we traditionally associate with librarianship. Skills in developing our message and advocating for it have become embedded in the profession’s consciousness as a requirement for ensuring that our voices are heard when funding is being considered. Skills in crafting fundraising proposals, identifying funding sources, and effectively reaching out to potential contributors are becoming essential parts of the new mix of knowledge required for library leaders. From whom and how we fund our operations may have been forever altered, whether we like it or not.

Speaking of gentle reminders, I hope that you have taken a few minutes to make a contribution to the Spectrum Presidential Initiative. I continue to receive beautiful and moving letters from this year’s Spectrum scholars class. You can make a difference in the future of our profession. Please help to ensure that the staffing of our libraries is reflective of the diverse nation we have become. Visit www.ala.org and click on “giveALA.”

ALA President ROBERTA STEVENS is on leave as outreach projects and partnerships officer at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Visit robertastevens.com. E-mail: rstevens@ala.org.