‘Go local’ with the Friends of the Library

The Mercer Island Friends of the Library are preparing for their Spring Book Sale starting this Thursday and running through Sunday, March 30. This year, I’ve decided to help out as a volunteer so decided to attend the Friends quarterly meeting.

“I’m here because I love books,” I introduced myself.

“So are we,” said Lenore Defliese, President. There were nods and smiles around the room.

While the community reaps many great benefits from the work of Friends of the Library (FOL), until I sat in on the meeting, I’d never fully registered the scope of the organization’s work and influence.

This summer, the Mercer Island Friends are sponsoring a Thursday morning July series for kids, including: “Physics Exhibit” by the Pacific Science Center, “Octopuses: Eight times the Fun” and a “Bubbles, Volcanoes and Rocket Balloons Workshop.” (see the Mercer Island events calendar for details). For adults, for some time they’ve been sponsoring Opera Previews, including the one coming up: “The Tales of Hoffman,” April 23 at 7:00 p.m. They’re also quite involved with helping plan and design the remodel of the Mercer Island branch.

I was impressed, and the experience got me wondering. How long has Friends of the Library been around? Is it a grass roots movement, or nationally organized? I called Ask-a-Librarian to find out more.

“Forty-six of our forty-eight branches in the King County Library System have Friends groups,” said Elsa Steele, Special Projects Manager. “It’s very unusual to have a library and not have a Friends associated with it. Nationally, they do all kinds of things. Their members represent the community to the library, and represent the library to the community.”

Friends Groups support libraries by purchasing not only books, but also equipment, furnishings and original art. Elsa confided how the Friends of the Mercer Island Branch and the Bellevue Branch are two of the strongest around. “Bellevue even has their own store, right up front as you enter the library, staffed by volunteers.”

Regarding FOL as a national organization, they’ve folded in with United for Libraries to promote libraries and reading and help start local FOL groups.

The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Vol. 9 was the best resource for FOL origins. “It was in Paris that the first group known to have used the name ‘Friends of the Library’ was founded. With the aim of increasing and enriching the great library collections of France, La Société des Amis de la Bibliothèque Nationale et les Grandes Bibliothèques de France was organized in 1913. … Nine years [later] the first library group known to have been called Friends of the Library was established … the Friends of the Library of Glen Ellyn Free Public Library founded in 1922 in Illinois.’ The locally-inspired origins of FOL groups, the text continued, made any attempt at national structure problematic.

And in a way, I now realize, out of place. Public libraries being for the public, Friends groups are as diverse and creative as the communities they serve.

And the book sales put on by Mercer Island Friends are among of the best. At this weekend’s mini-sale, there will be an exceptionally good array of children’s books ranging from picture books to books for teens, all in very good condition.

Also check out the great selection of biographies, cookbooks, gardening and travel books, and recent novels on the New York Times best seller list – such as “Sycamore Row and The Goldfinch.” The mini-sale will be open Thursday through Saturday during library hours.

Islander and author Claire Gebben is a columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter.


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