Your library has been there for you—books for free? Amazing community events? Bathroom when you’re in a pinch? But in the face of constant cutbacks, libraries rarely feel the love back. For National Library Week, we’ve put together a handy guide on how to donate money, skills, or even just a few moments of your time to support your local library. Find the one that’s best for you below!
Become a Friend of the Library
We all love our libraries and probably already consider ourselves pretty “friendly” with them, but Friends of the Library groups are a bit different. These nonprofit organizations organize fundraising events, coordinate volunteers, and advocate on behalf of the library. Some require annual dues or donations, and while these funds don’t go directly to the library, they pay for the services provided by Friends of the Library. You can learn more about these groups (including how to start your own) at United for Libraries, division of the American Library Association.
Shop at Library Book Sales
If you want to support the library monetarily but can’t afford the commitment of a Friends membership, consider buying from library book sales. You’ll find a huge selection of books that were either donated or pulled from circulation for various reasons. They won’t be in the best shape—some may still be stickered with spine labels and ID tags—but they’ll be full of love (not to mention dirt cheap). The money goes directly back to the library to purchase new items.
We all cringe at the thought of downsizing our personal libraries, but sometimes you just have to off-load books. The classic you were assigned in high school and hated? The book gifted from a distant aunt you have no intention of reading? The three extra copies of your childhood favorite? All can be donated to your local library. Don’t be dismayed if you don’t see your book in circulation—many donations end up in the aforementioned book sales to raise additional revenue. Keep in mind that all libraries have different procedures for donations, and that there are certain conditions that might prevent your library from taking your donation. If you plan on donating a large number of books, check with a librarian first about how to best proceed.
Libraries can always use volunteers. Tasks like shelving items, notifying patrons of available holds, or working with young readers are just some of the opportunities available for volunteers. Most libraries also have seasonal programs and events that require volunteers. Scheduling is usually pretty flexible and all the training you need will be provided on-site—no need to fret over not having a library degree.
Teach a Class
If you’re looking for other ways to volunteer, ask about what classes are offered. Many libraries offer free classes in areas like crafts, writing, and computer skills. If you have specialized knowledge or expertise in a certain skill, talk to your librarians about teaching a class. You can volunteer to help with the courses that are already being offered, or, if you can drum up enough interest, start a class of your own.
Attend a Book Club
Book clubs are a great way to get involved in your local literary community. Check out the offerings at your library, as most will have several options that vary by age group, genre, or other factors. If you don’t see one that suits you, ask if you can start your own. Already a member of a book club that meets elsewhere? See if you can meet at the library instead. Many libraries count the number of people that come into the library even if they don’t check anything out. Boosting these numbers is a simple way to prove that people use their local libraries and can impact the funding a library receives.
Get Involved in Local Politics
Sometimes, no matter how much you use and support your library, it still feels like it’s not enough. Budgets get cut, books get censored, and it often feels like we are powerless to stop it. But you don’t have to run for political office to have your say in politics. Voting in local elections certainly helps, but if you want to get involved year-round, consider becoming a library advocate. The Office for Library Advocacy is a branch of the American Library Association offering resources and ideas on how to get started, from planning an event to writing a letter to your local representative.
At the end of the day, there’s one small way you can support your library: ask questions. Libraries must constantly prove their value to receive funding, and one of the ways they do that is by recording the number of questions they are asked by patrons. Don’t pester your librarians with needless questions, of course, but if you’re looking for a specific item anyway, ask if they can help you find it. Ask about what kind of events they’re hosting, or what kind of programs they’re offering. Or, if you want to make your librarian’s day, ask for a new book recommendation. You never know what new favorites you might find.
By KM Bezner