Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, April 6, 2023. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Launch with Friends @ Your Library.
“Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library Launch Party! Thursday, April 13 at 7 p.m. at Your Library, 121 W. Jefferson Street, Spring Valley. Meet and greet Friends of SVPL board members, discuss and submit ideas for improving library facilities, programs publicity and funding; discover volunteer opportunities at your library; enjoy refreshments, and help choose a logo for our organization,” enthusiastically declared an invitation poster for the Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library (SVPL), or Friends of SVPL, the group preparing to officially organize at SVPL this month to provide helping hands, new ideas and general support to SVPL staff and patrons through a wide menu of volunteer activities and opportunities.
Idea chef Sarah Hansen explained why she put the heat under a pot of concepts to form a library friends organization, saying, “The public library, like a public school, is an important service and asset to a community. While the public school has a variety of support groups within the community, the library has not had a convenient way to access public support. A ‘friends of the library’ group will be the link between the library and the community to promote library services and meet the library’s needs. The library needs support for programs and services. Volunteers can assist with programs, regular housekeeping and special projects. Fundraising efforts will launch special events and startup efforts of new programs to serve Spring Valley and the surrounding area.”
She added that the coalescence of individuals around a flame of cooperation and collaboration will be beneficial to the library as an institution that meets people of all kinds. “The organizing of the Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library creates an opportunity to support library excellence. The people of the community can serve right here with ideas, time, and dollars. These investments will be seen in efficiency and variety in the Spring Valley Public Library.”
The Friends can mix up ingredients that library staff cannot do and do not have time to manage anyway. “As a member of the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, this group has access to support materials as well as grant funds that are not available to others in the library system. As a 501(c)3 charitable organization, donations are tax deductible. And as a group of volunteers, our varied skills and interests convert directly to agility in serving the needs of the library as they come up and all year long.”
She pointed out that “the Spring Valley Public Library is functioning now,” but that “the staff has been cut by half in less than ten years.” She added, “As a cost-saving measure, the custodian position was eliminated, and those duties have been added to the librarians’ duties. Decreased library staff has led to decreased library hours of service. Though declining, the library is functioning, but it is not excellent. Library excellence is the goal of the Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library. An excellent public library, like excellent schools and excellent public works, marks a community that supports growth—for the individual and the whole community.”
Hansen whipped into the discussion the implications of not having a library that functions well. “The lack of a library in a rural area indicates a decrease in basic facets of community that are attractive to its members, both current and prospective. The library is an entry point for newcomers to our community. As a service of city government, a library provides access to services of all kinds. Librarians answer questions for new residents regularly – ‘Who do I contact about zoning in my city or county?’ or ‘My Internet isn’t set up yet. Do you have computers I can use?’ and ‘Are there any clubs in town? Where do they meet?’ The library is also a resource to current members. As a community-accessible space without expectation of making purchases, the library hosts a variety of people on a regular basis doing puzzles, handicrafts, and board games. The community support within the library enriches the lives of its patrons. Without a welcoming library, Spring Valley loses a valuable source of support and enrichment.”
She observed that while there exist numerous people with the capacity to volunteer–even as they doubt themselves being able to add to the literary and community souffle–the talents and abilities of area residents are beyond their own imaginings.
“Spring Valley and the surrounding community is home to organizers and supporters of all sorts. Over the years, the community has proven to rally and support what matters to them. The library matters.” Furthermore, Hanson stated, “Our mission is to support library excellence through advocacy, public relations, fundraising and volunteer services. Expect to see cleaning crews, library properties workdays, publicity about the programs and services of the library, Book-It–a themed 5K run/walk unlike others we have seen, ice cream at Wednesdays on Broadway–featuring Kappers’ Big Red Barn dairy ice cream, social media, newspaper and other publications to raise awareness of the needs of the Spring Valley Public library, special classes and programs open for donators, and more. Fundraising events are already in the planning stages. When we have our launch party, we will be putting names and ideas together to get things rolling. We have already made plans to be present at Wednesdays on Broadway, selling high quality ice cream. Volunteers are gathering ideas for the Book-It 5K run/walk that is unlike any others hosted in our area. Book sales are a standard for friends of the library groups, and we have some ideas for that, also. That’s just a start of the ideas we have for keeping the FUN in FUNdraising.”
Hansen, who’s very enthusiastic about giving her local library a better chance at serving its patrons the excellence she feels they deserve, elaborated that the library staff and board essentially give suggestions for the friends group to use as its membership ices the cake. “We are a group designed to support the library board and library staff. Service when, where and how the library needs it is the only way to be as a Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library organization. Expect to see us working–both behind the scenes and out in front on projects like the summer reading program, special events and speakers, seasonal cleanup projects, promotion of library events, and advocating for the library as a HUGE asset to our community.” She said, “Meeting needs toward an excellent library experience for all patrons is very rewarding. We’ve been able to do that some already–Spring Valley seems to really enjoy coming together to meet goals–this is gonna be great!”
And once things are cooking, she’s certain that plans for an even bigger smorgasbord will evolve. “In the course of the next couple years, I hope that, with the help of this fantastic board of directors and officers, this group will grow to be a strong, contributing organization within the community. It is designed to serve in strong ways to bring about permanent changes toward library excellence. This will improve not only Spring Valley, but the entire surrounding community served by the library.”
Oftentimes, what’s happening behind the kitchen door goes unseen if one is just out for lunch with friends, but launching with friends is an entirely different affair, according to Hansen, noting that there is also a difference between being a library board member and a Friends board member. “People from the community are ready to go with this. They have been unaware of the funding needs, the staffing cuts, and the increased duties designated to the library staff. But, now that a group is organized to mobilize and inform, people are asking more and showing up to lend a hand. We’re pretty excited as a board. The majority of the officers and directors on the board have not ever held an office of any kind. We are community members and library patrons. We saw a need that was not being met and decided, ‘I need to do something.’ And here we are. Joining with others, we plan to do big things. We seek excellence for our library.”
Hansen concluded by offering an address for donations to be sent for the Friends to use for the betterment of the entire library recipe. “Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library receives its mail at the library, 121 W. Jefferson St., Spring Valley, Minnesota, 55975. I can be contacted via e-mail at FriendsSVPL@gmail.com. And, you can always drop us a note at the library. One of the board members is there nearly every day during open hours. I would be glad to talk to anyone about the Friends of the Spring Valley Public Library.”
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325