Mike Parker: Down East ‘Friends’ gather at Kinston library

Mike Parker: Down East ‘Friends’ gather at Kinston library

March 9 saw an invasion of sorts at the Kinston-Lenoir County Public Library. Our local library hosted the 2019 Southeast Regional workshop of the Friends of North Carolina Public Libraries (FONCPL). FONCPL is a statewide network of Friends of the Library groups that stretched from Murphy to Manteo.

The Southeast Region includes libraries from 18 Down East counties. More than 40 library advocates attended the Saturday workshop, representing at least 15 of the 18 counties. Co-directors Donna Morgan from Brunswick County and Meg Forward from Carteret County worked with the Kinston-Lenoir County Friends to put the meeting together.

Our local Friends encouraged everyone to “Bee a Friend” and bee-like motifs swarmed all over the Schechter Library. This theme fit perfectly with the President’s Report that Diane Baumann presented. She distributed a sheet titled “Friends BEEing Friends” with an entire alphabet of traits that library Friends need. Diane, current president of FONCPL, and I have known each other since she served as the organization’s Vice President for the three years I was President.

Lynda Reynolds, liaison between the State Library and FONCPL, gave a brief history of library services in North Carolina. I had no idea that what developed into our State Library began in 1812. She also delineated the respective responsibilities of the library director and the Friends.

Our own Melanie Morgan, director of libraries for the Neuse Regional System, shared timely tips for becoming effective advocates for libraries from the community to the state house. She demonstrated a way to tell compelling stories of the practical impact a library can have on the citizens it serves. Afterwards, she asked some to share their stories. The room fell quiet as participants shared one touching story after another.

I learned two lessons during my time serving on the board of FONCPL: 1) each Friends group is as different as the library or library system it serves; 2) despite differences, all Friends face similar challenges.

One of the most important functions of the regional workshops is creating a forum for Friends to share both successes and challenges. To help focus discussion, three roundtable discussions took place. Group One shared ideas about Book Sales and Fundraising. Group Two focused on Membership, Recruiting and Retention. Group Three discussed the challenges of Community Relations. Each group reported back to the workshop as a whole so everyone could profit from summaries of the discussions. 

Membership, Recruiting and Retention session initially focused on each distinct Friends organization, especially how many members each had. How can a Friends group grow? Participants discussed possible incentives offered to those who joined or renewed. One Friends organization provides tote bags, and another provides discounts to ticketed events such as popular local author visits.

One idea suggested that if Friends helped with specific programming according to their area of expertise, once interested people were in the door, the Friends could encourage these likeminded individuals to join the local Friends organization.  

The Book Sales and Fundraising session discussed how successful book sales continue to be in each individual community. Silent auctions were also mentioned as beneficial fundraisers. All agreed how necessary these efforts were for the Friends organizations.

The Community Relations and Programs session emphasized the importance of Friends advocating for their libraries within the community. These ties create the foundation for increased support. Libraries are constantly in need of ways to share stories of the positive contributions they are making in their communities.

Despite diversity of organization and methods, in the end all Friends groups must find ways to generate funds, to recruit and retain members, and to tell the story of their libraries. Only when Friends find ways to be successful in these endeavors can they position themselves to be effective advocates for their libraries.

Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at mparker16@gmail.com .

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