Magazine article American Libraries

Grassroots Report: Generosity of Spirit for a Great Library

Magazine article American Libraries

Grassroots Report: Generosity of Spirit for a Great Library

Article excerpt

Public libraries came into being to allow people to read and learn freely, even if they couldn't afford to buy books. Recently, though, New York Public Library has begun asking the public to contribute small amounts to the library's book fund--and patrons have readily agreed.

The Take Out Give Back fundraising effort went into operation as the second phase of the library's three-year emergency campaign to meet an $18-million revenue shortfall (AL, Sept. 2003, p. 18-19). Ads promoting the campaign appeared in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and on TV and radio. The first ads informed readers that "with just $17, you can help us buy one book."

NYPL spokesperson Nancy Donner explained, "We're not looking for people to give us $100,000; we're asking for $17--the average cost of a book. Eighty percent of all funds raised during this fundraising effort go toward books and other materials."

This grassroots effort supplements the library's ongoing goal to secure operating funds. "In any given year, we've got to raise $30 million for the branches," NYPL President Paul LeClerc said. "It's kind of a quiet story in the world of libraries." The Take Out Give Back campaign is distinctive, he observed, because it's "the first time we've tried to do a campaign to support book budgets of branches."

Donner says the pitch is working. Before the ads ran, the library had more than 600 contributions from people who have visited the branches or the website (www.nypl.org/giveback/). The average donation runs about $36. "What's more, over 50% are directing their donations to a specific research or branch library," she said.

LeClerc values these branch-specific donations. "I think it's important to give people options for where their donations go. The lion's share of our daily visits are to the branch libraries," he said.

Get it at the library

At the same time that NYPL is encouraging its patrons to give to its four research libraries and 85 neighborhood branches, the library remains intent on encouraging them to take what the library has to offer. That's why the fundraising effort has been coupled with a library card drive, said Donner. …

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