Magazine article American Libraries

FOLUSA Turns 25: For a Quarter of a Century, Friends of Libraries U.S.A. Has United Library Advocates

Magazine article American Libraries

FOLUSA Turns 25: For a Quarter of a Century, Friends of Libraries U.S.A. Has United Library Advocates

Article excerpt

While libraries have changed dramatically over the past 100 years, Friends groups--the citizens who support libraries with their time and money--continue to play the same crucial role they did during the days of Andrew Carnegie: ensuring the viability and sustainability of our systems by raising money, awareness, and political support.

In fact, perhaps not since the Carnegie era have Friends been so critical to the future of our libraries. Many state library agencies today are enduring severe budget cutbacks, often at unprecedented levels. These cuts in funding mean less direct state aid for local libraries, a decrease in or elimination of support for interlibrary loan costs, and a drastic reduction in the provision of online resources. Cuts in state aid mean a double blow for libraries that suffer from the withdrawal of state support at the same time their local governments are reducing their own support.

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First Friends

Carnegie's largesse to cities and towns across America was a defining moment in the history of our public libraries--and our Friends. In 1898, a U.S. Board of Education survey found only 637 public libraries in the United States, primarily on the East Coast. By the time Carnegie provided his last grant for a public library in 1919, there were 3,500 public libraries across the country. Although Carnegie can only take credit for about half the new libraries during this period, his high-profile generosity spurred a new and fervent desire for libraries, even among towns and cities that were not grant recipients.

While Carnegie provided money for buildings, there was still much work to be done at the local level to bring these facilities to fruition, and community members played an integral role getting the libraries built. City leaders were often reluctant and sometimes adamantly opposed to accepting grants because library operations would create a new expense in municipal budgets. In many states, laws had to be changed to allow localities to tax themselves for libraries. In addition, money had to be raised for furniture, equipment, and collections. Hundreds of thousands of library fundraising events were held in communities across the country. The citizens who changed laws, persuaded city and town leaders to fund operations, and raised money were--in spirit if not always in name--quintessential Friends of libraries.

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The power of Friends' voices, however, can no longer be confined to the local level, where certainly they can and do make the most immediate impact. In addition to addressing the funding crisis at the state level, Friends are necessary to make the case at the national level as well. To do this they need a way to work together across city and state boundaries with a national voice. That's where Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA) comes in.

A quarter-century strong

This year, FOLUSA--now with over 2,000 member groups, libraries, and individuals--celebrates its 25th anniversary, a remarkable feat for an organization that started from a small but visionary project of the Committee on Friends of the Library embedded deep within ALA's Library Administration and Management Association. In 1975, this committee undertook a project to compile a directory of known Friends of libraries groups on campuses and in communities. …

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