Fundraising as a Fact of Life

August 2, 2010

With tax caps and a severe recession,  income in most libraries has and is continuing to decline.  Book sales are no longer enough to supplement the budget.  Directors and trustees are adding fundraising to their job descriptions as they seek alternative revenue resources.  Most of us decided to work in libraries or on boards because we love what libraries are and do and want to help them to do more and better.  We did not sign up to fundraise but are doing so to provide critical support for our libraries. 

I plan to write a series of short articles on fundraising but before that we need to make sure we do our homework first.  Do we have a long-range plan?  Have we identified our priorities?  If not, we need to back up and do this with the help of our community, board, and staff.  We need to look at our strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities (SWOT) and plan for the library our community needs and wants. Then we need to explore ways of funding that plan.

To start, the director and board analyze the budget to identify what critical services to fund first.  The director and staff look at services to identify those declining in popularity or use and downsize, even eliminate, them to free time and dollars to better fund higher priorities or to develop more needed services.  Each department must streamline processes so it can focus energies on what delivers the most value. 

After that the board can develop long and short-term fundraising goals and research methods to identify the best for their purposes. 

All fundraising takes planning and time.  It is wise to commit the time to do it right the first time.  Then you can build on the relationships you have established and the successes you have experienced.


Advocating for Your Library

June 15, 2010

Libraries exist as political organizations within the context of local government.  Local and state taxes and other sources of income support the common good, in this case, books, DVDs, computers, WiFi, and other materials and programs that benefit all.  Libraries compete with fire, police, parks, schools, and other entities for funds to best achieve their purposes.  Informed, persuasive, caring advocates are critical to any and all libraries’ success. 

A good library trustee advocates for his/her library with the community, with higher governing authorities, and with state and federal government.  Unlike the director and staff, the trustee is not seen as having as vested an interest in a library’s success. 

To best sell the library, there first has to be an organization worth selling, or at least a vision of what the library can and will be with the right support.  Strong leadership, informed and skilled librarians, a quality building, services that respond to the needs of the service population, and good collections are all part of the vision.  Trustees must know their libraries well in order to advocate for their future and success.

To get started, support the library’s efforts in developing and promoting a strong marketing campaign.  Attend library functions.  Be an “ambassador” and join community organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary, and the local literacy coalition and regularly inform the members of the library’s contributions to the community and how it helps make your town the wonderful place it is in which to work and live.  Don’t forget to mention when the library could use their support. 

Understand the library’s finances and its needs to help sell the library’s budget to local government and to others who might contribute their money and time to make the library a better organization.  Use the library so you know what it offers and who else is using it and why.  Spread the word.

Next time I will talk about meeting and talking to your state and federal elected officials.

Innovation in the Face of Adversity

May 31, 2010

When systems in Illinois were founded in the late 1960’s, they numbered 18.  Budget cuts through the years lead to consolidations and 9 systems.  Since 1994, there have been no budget increases but actually several funding decreases.  The Alliance Library System, until recently has used those budget challenges to effect immediate and major positive changes as the opportunity arose. 

Every time an employee  left, the position description was re-evaluated.  Is this exact position what we need now?  Or can we tweak it into something that will help us grow into our library’s vision?  Are there projects or services we no longer need or ones we want to add? Sometimes this even lead to the creation of new departments or the elimination of other departments.   As a system, we followed trends and  became a trend setter ourselves.  In earlier years, we cultivated and rewarded staff who took risks and wrote grants to try out new services. 

In more recent years, the system developed an Innovation Department with a Director of Innovation, Lori Bell.  Isn’t that a great job title?  She wrote grants for new programs and was a trend setter herself.  She was pushing ebooks back in the late 1990s,  started libraries in the virtual world Second Life a few years ago, founded the INFOQUEST project with reference services accessible through your cellphone,  and started us on our downloadable books project this past year.  In the last few months, she designed some creative fundraising with online one day conferences through the Handheld and Trendy Topics themes.  Talking to her is fun; you never know what innovative topic has caught her imagination.  She is a collaborator and encourages colleagues in her workplace and literally all over the country and sometimes the world to join whatever new grant or project she envisions. 

Libraries are making cuts while their services are more in demand than ever before.  There is not enough time or money to do even what you need to do each day.  Exhausted library staff  who deal with the stress and demand need our help.  I know it is tough, but try some of the methods that ALS tried.  Not everyone is set up to present online conferences, I know,  but do think about rewarding the idea people, the risk takers who come up with time or money-saving ideas or ideas for new services that answer your community’s needs.  This is the time to jettison the dead weight collections and services that slow you down and move with the high demand services or technology innovations.  Watch the trends and adopt those that make sense as soon as you can.  They can energize your organization and often make work more focused and simpler.

In Honor of Teams

May 24, 2010

In case you have not heard, the wonderful multi-type library systems in Illinois are being restructured.  They are being downsized for the most part into their ILSAPs and delivery of library materials with the goal to go from nine systems down to one or two.  To read more about this,  pick up the new Library Journal or American Libraries or check the various library system websites.

As one of the 22 laid off in the Alliance Library System, I have been grieving the loss of the systems but also reflecting on the relationships and teams that I have enjoyed in the nearly ten years of my ALS tenure.  I am honored and privileged to have worked with some incredible people.

Nearly ten years ago, I joined an incredible team of library consultants, all very skilled and well-known in their field.  I was afraid that I might never measure up, but over time I found my niche.  They were all innovators, thinkers, and doers, and it was always exciting, challenging, and invigorating.  Since then, Johanne Grewell has retired, Mary-Carol Lindbloom directs a system in New York, and Denise Anton Wright directs a public library in Wisconsin.  This team founded summer camp for school librarians, managed the first academic virtual reference program in the country, developed Safe Harbor, and created Parade of Programs, a database of programs and programmers, and many other tools and services for our members.   We  filled their places with other incredible team members and went in other new and exciting directions with Technology Training Wheels, Library Toolkit, Trustee Connections (newsletter then blog), ISAIL , knowledge based consulting, online workshops, and many other programs.  The team changes and develops with new members with different interests or priorities.    As a group we love to learn, to experiment, and to serve our system libraries.  Lee Logan, Beth Duttlinger, Genna Buhr, Angie Green, Suzanne Baschieri and I hope everyone has a chance in their lives to be part of such a team.

On a broader level, the state-wide consultants were a team as well.  Even though we only officially met once a year, we knew and valued each other.  We sometimes worked together on projects or workshops and ILA programs.   The consultants I worked the most closely with over the years have been Nancy Smith, Charm Ruhnke, Anna Yackle, Louise Green, and Doris McKay.

One of my favorite responsibilities as a library development consultant has been to work with public library networking groups.  When I was a public library director, my  networking groups were invaluable.  As a library director, you are alone in your organization.  You are friendly and probably work well with your staff but the responsibility is yours and it can be daunting.  Knowing that support group is out there helps you to feel less alone and links you to people who have been there.  Going through a referendum or building project?  Someone in your networking group has been there, done that, and is willing to share their experience.  If you have not cultivated the relationships of people in similar positions in your county, region, or state, put that on your New Year’s resolution list.  You will learn much and create an un-equalled support group for yourself and your library.

In the last few years, I have been part of yet another remarkable team.  I have been a member of the board of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.  My term is winding down but I want to pay tribute to that wonderful group of people.  The members change but the energy and spirit of innovation remains.  We have different backgrounds, strengths, and priorities but we came together to turn an organization that was once part of a university into its own entity.  The first year was especially challenging as we stumbled along blindly.  The first presidents–Ken Davenport, Don Reynolds, and Patty Hector with the help of the incredible organizer Carla Lehn really had vision, know how, and the energy of thousands. It was exciting joining this group of people after the organization’s first few months of existence.  Helping a new organization start-up and grow from infancy is a unique experience, and I am glad I was part of it.  The current president Timothy Owens and president-elect Sonja Plummer-Morgan are and will carry on the tradition with skill.   If you have not been active in a professional organization, make the time.  You will never regret it.

And if you ever have the pleasure of meeting or working with any of the people I have mentioned by name above, consider yourself very lucky!

On another note, although this blog was originally started to serve the public library boards and administrators of the Alliance Library System, I will continue the blog but widen the focus to public library boards and directors anywhere.  If you have topics you would like to see addressed, please let me know.  See you here next week!

Too Many Signs

May 10, 2010

We work in libraries, we like books and people, and we like to think we welcome people into our book-lined walls and comfortable chairs with open arms.  Why then do so many of our glass front doors have lots and lots of 8 1/2 x 11 paper signs taped all over them?  Sometimes you cannot see even an inch of clear glass. As if that were not enough, there are usually more signs posted all over the check out desk, on book sale trucks, on the photocopier, and on the walls.  We library people like our signs but  apparently not our visitors.

NO CELLPHONES! in 2 inch high letters.  No shoes, no service!  No dogs allowed!  Children’s magic show at 10:00 a.m. on Monday.  NO LOITERING!  No bicycles inside library or blocking door!  No leprechauns allowed.  (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) Unattended children will be given a free puppy.  ( I saw that one in a gift shop.)

NO! NO! NO!  GO AWAY!  Unfriendly library employees are watching your every move, so WATCH YOURSELF!.  That is the message your “NO” signs send.  My favorite behavior oriented sign hangs in the Alpha Park Public Library:

Alpha Park Library is committed to quality service for the library community.  Please remember that considerate library use includes:


in moderate tones


while in the library


young children at all times


staff, other patrons, & property in a respectful manner

Lighten up and remove those negative  signs.  Notice there are no “nos” in Alpha Park’s sign and that it does cover the majority of bad behavior we want to guard against.

The sign chaos confuses.  Too much clutter gets in the way.  Focus only on the critical signs that label the functional areas of the library.  Checkout desk, nonfiction, fiction, young adult, children’s department, CDs, and computers are functional signs.  Your front door should have your hours or an open or closed sign on it.  If you must post an announcement, make it no more than one and keep the wording positive.  Then our visitors can look through the glass into that wonderfully inviting library interior that we want them to enjoy.

May 3, 2010

Happy Choose Privacy Week! To kick off the American Library Association’s inaugural celebration of your right to privacy, check out the brand-new short film, featuring Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, ALA President Camila Alire, and more!   Choose Privacy.

Choose Privacy Week

May 1, 2010

The American Library Association has designated the first week of May as Choose Privacy Week.  Learn more about it and share what you learn with your staff, board, and customers.

In the last few years, our privacies have been steadily eroding away.  There are cameras at intersections and on buildings tracking who is there and what they are doing, from speeding to just walking by to getting money out of their ATM.  The U.S. Patriot Act gives the government unprecedented powers to look at financial records, emails, and even your library records.  In the interest of targeting interactive advertising and developing “relevant” searches, Facebook and Google use your information to better serve you.  In Facebook, users are continually having to reset their privacy settings to prevent too much information going who knows where. 

We all have to watch what information we post, share, and use and how protected that use is so our identities are not stolen.  When you do online banking, is it secure?  How do you know?  When you check your retirement accounts, post your resume on websites, track online orders, and get your children’s grades  all online, how do you know that no one else is not doing the same thing and collecting information on and about you.  Research, learn, and apply tactics that protect your information.   When you post personal information in social networking, be careful what you write.  Your birthday is one thing but the year of your birth is another, as is your address and phone number.  All of that information helps someone become you, assume your identity.

Remember when you post something to a listserve or as your status in a social network, that may come back to haunt you.  That angry outburst  or political view or raunchy photo may be all it takes to get you eliminated from consideration in a job search, college application, or an award nomination.   People will make judgments about you from what they read or see about you online.  We used to talk about things showing up in our permanent record.  Permanent record has taken on a whole new meaning and life of its own when it comes to the Internet. 

Did you notice recently that the Library of Congress bought Twitter’s archive as a history of our culture at this point in time?  I bet there are some people who like to tweet remembering some things they now wish were not in that archive.  Don’t post anything you would not want your mother, your minister, your current and future employers, or your children to see, because they probably will.

Learn to protect yourself in this new digital world. 

This slogan from captures the essence of choosing privacy:   I am not an open book.  I want the power to decide who sees what.

Proactive vs. Reactive

April 24, 2010

Does it ever seem that all you do at the library is crisis management?  There is just one problem after another.  You create policy to solve one problem and at your next meeting there is another problem, so you create another policy or expand the one you just passed so it covers the new situation as well.  You are always throwing together policies to address one issue after another.  It is like you are in  the middle of a dodge ball game and are dodging all the balls coming your way.  You need to quit that game and seize control of the situation.    Get out of the reactive mind-set that tells you to do nothing until there is a problem. 

Your vocabulary word for today is PROACTIVE.  When you start a new service, think it through before you write your policy.  Have  your director contact the library system and other libraries and ask them what are their policies are for that service.  Find out what problems they had and how they solved them.  Learn to anticipate problems and plan for them.  Make your policies broad, customer oriented, and easy to enforce. 

Create a vision and a long range plan for your library and internalize those into your very being.  Making decisions with those in place becomes easier because every decision you make leads you forward into your vision and moves your long range plan ahead. 

That does not mean that you will not run into problems sometimes, but now you have a framework within which you can work.

OPEN for Business

April 18, 2010

Part of customer service is giving your customers what they want when they want it.  That is WHEN they want it.  Are you open the hours that your customers want?  Have you asked them what those hours would be?  Maybe you should; it might be different than you expect.

Think about when you like to run errands.  Sometimes I do errands over my lunch hour or go into work late because I cannot do what I need to do during a more convenient time.  For example, when I moved to my current city, I needed to purchase a trash receptacle that waste removal preferred I use, but I could only arrange for that between 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  If I remember right, I could not go in during my regular lunch hour because they closed for lunch.  It was a hassle I did not need after a stressful move.  My city government obviously did not care about my needs; they were even rude on the phone when I called about how to get the receptacle.   It is probably a good thing they have not held a referendum.

 When you move you have to look for a new dentist, a new doctor, a new veterinarian, a new grocery store, … The list is endless.  I found a dentist whose first appointment is 7:30 a.m. and who works some Saturdays.  I am not always able to get those first appointments but even an 8:00  appointment is very helpful.  My vet has Thursday evening and Saturday morning hours as well as the regular daily hours.  That has come in handy many times, especially for picking up medicine or emergency situations.

Before I moved here, I commuted a year from a city 57 miles away.  That was not unusual in that community.  I left about  7:30 every morning and returned about 6:00 p.m.  Hardly any of my regular errand locations outside of the grocery store were open when I was home from work.  Luckily, my library had great hours.  They were open until 8:00 every weekday evening but Friday so I could go in to pick up a reserve or browse before going home.  Can your commuting citizens do that? 

My favorite day to go to the library is Sunday.  I have done my errands, caught up on my housework, and am ready to do something for me.  My current library is open Sundays during the school year and twice a month I attend a knitting group in their meeting room Sunday afternoon.  It is great.  There are always children in finishing up homework projects, people working on job applications, and many others enjoying the day as I do. 

I have worked in several public libraries and without exception they were all open on Sunday afternoons.  In those 4 hours, we often did as much business as we did in any other 12 hour day.  It was obviously our citizens’ favorite time for us to open.   Often the whole family would come in together to look for books or movies.  If  I had worked in those libraries when times were as tough as they are now, I would have done everything I could to save those Sunday hours.  If I had to cut hours, I would choose another day if at all possible. 

 When do your citizens want to use your library?  You can survey your users and you can do door counts every hour on the hour for a week two or three times a year to find out your busiest times of day and days of the week.  If the library is busy between 12:00 and 1:00, do not work with a skeletal crew or close down on the lunch hour, or you will alienate those busy people.  Do not forget to survey ALL of the residents in your service area not just your current users.  You very likely have several people who have stopped using the library because your hours are confusing or inconvenient.  They may have a library card but have chosen to patronize another library that is more concerned about convenience.  Just imagine how those people will vote if you have a referendum.    

To be memorable, your hours should be as consistent as you can make them.  If you are open 10:00-2:00 on Monday, 9:00-4:00 on Tuesday, closed Wednesdays, 4:00-8:00 on Thursdays, closed Fridays, and open 10:00-12:00 on Saturday, you can bet most of your citizens will show up at times you are closed because the hours are different every day.  10:00-7 :00 Monday through Thrusday with 10:00-4:00 Friday and Saturday is much easier to remember.

Consistency and convenience are critical for customers. (Like my alliteration?)


April 12, 2010

Is your library income  shrinking like a wool sweater in hot water?   Is it now only large enough to cover the bare essentials of a library half your size ( pun intended)?

Yet new users are flocking to your doors and returning often and staying longer.   Many of them demand much more of your time to teach them how to create an email or apply for services or jobs online.  You have cut staff, hours, and services in order to afford to stay open.  Regular duties are being left undone because there are fewer employees to do them.  What can you do to keep yourself and your staff from running screaming out the front door or collapsing from exhaustion?

Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!

If it takes 20 steps to catalog a book, eliminate 10.  Don’t stamp the library address  on three book edges, on the front page, and three more places.  Once is enough. Don’t  write the purchasing information in the ditch (old-time library term and old-time practice) or on a shelf list card.  Do you have an automated catalog and circulation system? Then dump the shelf list and the card catalog as well.  You can no longer afford all those redundant tasks to protect you  just in case something happens.

If your circ desk policies have you filing paper book cards, examining every returned  item for damage, and completing  other time-eating little tasks, STOP.   If you still have security containers for videos, stop.  If videos are stolen, remember they are old technology; they aren’t made anymore so losing one saves you weeding time.

If your automation system will send overdues or reserve notices through email, use that feature.  Save postage and all the time it takes to print, stuff, and send paper notices or phone.

If you haven’t the time to put books away as soon as they come in, put the full book carts out where patrons can find them.  Customers will snatch up those items,  saving you the time of shelving them.

If the board has always had complete paper packets sent to them in the mail or hand delivered to their office, now is the time to go to an all electronic packet.  This will save you much time, paper, toner, and postage.  If they want paper copies, they can print them.

Touch items in your in-basket once.  Throw away ads, catalogs, and other items that there just is not time to handle. Stop any approval plans and sign up for some automatic order lists like Library Guild selections, Baker and Taylor best sellers, and other pre-selected lists.  Other directors will tell you what their favorites are.  If you have proudly done your best on every little thing, now is the time to settle for good enough.

Learn to say no!  We library people think we can do everything for everybody, but we can’t.  Know your long-range plan and the vision and mission for your library.  Turn down anything that does not fit into those parameters.  There is a difference between an opportunity that moves your library forward and one that just takes your time with small return.  Look at your long-range plan and revamp it to reflect the times.  For example, your community and your taxpayers may need the library to focus on services for the unemployed instead of that redecorated children’s room you want.  Don’t spend days, weeks, and months on the revamping, just re-visit your priorities.

If the library is going to invest in anything, invest in your website and downloadable services.  That online catalog that allows your patrons to reserve their own books and renew their own books is gold.  Downloadable books will be less work for the in-house staff.  If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, you can get information out more quickly than you can write a press release.

Simplify! Learn to say NO.

If you have a good idea on how to save time and effort while not spending a fortune, please share!