Working Relationship with Friends of the Library

Friends of the Library organizations have a definite purpose in helping libraries give the best service possible. Friends' groups extend the circle of contacts in the community begun by library board members. Often, it is from these loyal believers and supporters of libraries that board members are chosen. The Friends extend their great enthusiasm, eagerness, and assistance in a variety of ways.

Friends groups set their own purposes, consistent with the needs of the library. It is the responsibility of the board to work closely with the Friends, encouraging them and informing them of the library's policies and programs. Part of this informational program may be to invite an official observer from the Friends' group to the meetings of the board. In turn, the board should attempt to keep itself informed of upcoming Friends' programs.

Some boards appoint one of their members to act as a liaison to the Friends to coordinate the Friends' programs with the library's plan and policies. The board and every board member individually should make an effort to avoid, even unintentionally, dominating the group. An independent Friends' group that is freely choosing to support the library can be much more effective in gaining widespread community support than one that is acting as a surrogate of the board.

The vital supplementary and supporting role that this concerned group plays in enhancing and enriching the library is reflected in their diverse activities as follows:

  • Assisting with services: acting as tour guides within the library; assisting with projects to the handicapped, shut-ins, imprisoned and hospitalized; clerical help; conducting story hours; developing attractive brochures; purchasing equipment; hosting special functions at the library; landscaping and general maintenance; scholarships and staff development assistance; and supplying and arranging exhibits.
  • Publicizing the library's services: through Friends' membership drives; informs non-users of library services; draws attention to the library as the educational, recreational, and social focal point of the community; speaks at public meetings and to individuals about the library's services, programs, activities, resources, and needs.
  • Raising special funds: author receptions, musical events, house tours, tractor pulls, rodeos, book sales, antique bazaars, art shows, or plays.
  • Other assistance: legislative communication to city and county governing authorities and state and national legislators; special projects; cultural programs; campaign for a new building or expansion or renovation of an existing building.

Informed Friends' groups and library board members working cooperatively with and through the library director can be of valuable assistance in the total public relations efforts of the library.

Where no Friends of the Library group exists, the board may decide that a Friends' group is needed and be instrumental in organizing such a group. If so, an early understanding of the relationship of the Friends to the board and to the staff can be established, reducing the possibility of later jurisdictional problems.

When Friends volunteer to help the library, it is with assistance and cooperation of the library board, librarian, and staff, all of whom should have a part in discussing the needs that might be the subject of work by the Friends. Friends should not expect the staff to have available unlimited time to work on projects; the board and librarian should discuss and determine how much time, money, and personnel can be woven into the Friends' efforts.

Library boards have legal governing responsibilities, including making policy and recommendations. The librarian carries out the library's policies and has charge of the staff. Friends cooperate with both but interfere with neither. Generally speaking, library staff and board are encouraged to belong to the Friends group.

However, current staff members and board members should not be officers in the Friends group, in order to avoid possible conflict of interest allegations.

Organizing Friends Groups

The library director and board usually decide that a Friends group is needed. Sometimes, however, interested citizens approach the librarian to suggest formation of a Friends group. In either case, the library board and library director should be involved in setting forth the guidelines, roles, and structure of the Friends group.

First, the library director develops a small planning committee consisting of active and concerned patrons, representatives from civic organizations, community leaders, a library board member liaison, the library director, and a cross-section of the community.

Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) has compiled Fact Sheets to help in creating the needed infrastructure of a non-profit Friends group. The Fact Sheets are found on the ALTAFF site – Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations. ALTAFF is a recently expanded division of the American Library Association, joining FOLUSA and the Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA).




Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) –
Friends and Foundations Fact Sheets –
WebJunction Friends resources