Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Creating a Friends of the Library

By James M. Jackson

My memories of libraries are wrapped up with the concepts of freedom and self-exploration. When I was a tot, it was the freedom to choose which book to “read.” In grade school, I learned I could explore the world beyond what I could personally experience through books and the eyes (and words) of others. I learned a bit of history through the We Were There series that thrust me in the middle of an historical event following the actions of a kid my age who somehow played a major role in the action. I fueled my love of mystery reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

Every summer, our local library had a mobile van that came to our neighborhood, bringing books to us kids who lived too far away from a library branch to walk or ride our bikes.

In high school, I took the public bus to the central branch of the city library to research papers and discovered all that the stacks could offer. In college, the library was a calm, quiet place where I could study and work through the concepts of Boolean Algebra and Calculus on Manifolds. I’ve long forgotten the math, but I still look forward to trips to the library to see what new books I can explore. And I have appreciated all the library events I have attended as an author where I can meet new-to-me readers and talk about my books.

Most importantly, I believe libraries are an extremely important institution to help preserve our democracy. They provide an open place where all people, regardless of a family’s economic status, have the freedom to explore ideas, and they provide the resources to make that exploration possible.

So, when our local library hired a new director, I approached her with the idea of forming a “Friends” group to fundraise for the library and create a mechanism to bring volunteer assistance for their programs. COVID-19 intervened and put everything on hold for 2020. This year, once we could again meet in person, a group of interested people came together and agreed to form The Friends of the Crystal Falls District Community Library. When it came to accepting leadership positions, I turned down an invitation to become President to instead be the Treasurer, which was a harder position to fill.

One of my lines about myself these days is that my knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. And yet it turns out that inch-deep, mile-wide pool of prior experience had prepared me for this moment. I had learned about forming corporations in Michigan when I created Wolf’s Echo Enterprises, LLC (dba Wolf’s Echo Press) some years ago. That gave me a leg up on learning the hoops to jump through to register The Friends as a Michigan nonprofit. I had more than a passing familiarity with nonprofit bylaws, having helped the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime rewrite theirs while I served on its board. Knowing it is easier for a group of people to modify a document than create it, I drafted Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws using templates I found online. The group honed them to meet our needs (and learned that I can create typos out of whole cloth).

In my working life, I had three decades of experience reading Revenue Procedures and Rulings, weaving my way through the complex formulations they often include. Turned out that was beneficial in helping determine which flavor of 501(c)(3) corporation we wanted to be and apply for advanced determination of our charitable corporation status with the IRS.

I learned to purchase web domains and code and host websites for my author business. Those skills allowed me to throw together our first website (one thing governments review to determine if you are serious about your nonprofit corporation). You can find it at https://friends-cfdcl.org. Hopefully, we can solicit a volunteer from the community with actual skills to develop a more professional website, but that’s what you get with mile-wide, inch-deep knowledge.

Since I had done it before, it was a breeze to set up a business bank account, create a corporate email, and start keeping our financial books. Having participated or led the boards of churches, chapters of Sisters in Crime, and worked with the boards of directors of several national corporations, I am comfortable maintaining records, meeting protocols like having proper resolutions, seconds, and votes, and avoiding the complexity of following Roberts Rules of Order, choosing instead a more collegial approach to discussion and decision-making.

The work has been fun, frustrating, and fulfilling. And is just beginning. We still must develop policies for handling money, create a privacy policy, determine how to solicit donations, and do good works. That part we have begun by helping the library provide books for young trick-or-treaters this past weekend.

What do libraries mean to you, and are you part of a Friends of the Library group?

* * * * *

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.


  1. Congratulations, Jim. A worthy endeavor indeed.

  2. Thanks, Kait. We had 5.25" of snow on the deck this morning.

  3. Wow! I'm impressed with all that you've learned as a writer and in your various volunteer capacities.

    The librarians at the Blue Ash library know me by name. I'm one of their frequent borrowers keeping their circulation stats up.

  4. I'm a member of the Friends of the Library, and I appreciate both them and the library itself.

    I commend you for offering to be treasurer. My husband was treasurer of two investment clubs (in different states) for years. It was when he was not able to do their taxes for the year that I had to get over my denial concerning his cognitive decline. Guess what totally unprepared person had a crash course in investment clubs and their financial matters, barely getting the tax forms in on time. I reluctantly continued to act as treasurer for the next year but then told them someone else had to take over or I would shut the clubs down at the end of the year.

  5. Showing your library and community love in a concrete way! Thank you, Jim.

  6. Margaret -- the Hamilton County Library System is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure of being a cardholder.

    KM -- Now that's impressive. Investment clubs are a whole different kettle of fish.

    Thanks, Molly.

  7. This warms my librarian heart! I'm a big fan of the Friends groups. And I loved your trick or treat for books idea. How did it go?

  8. Shari -- This is the second year for the trick-or-treat idea. Last year the library ran out of books. I've heard the volunteers had a good time, but I'm not sure what the total count of books given away was. Board meeting next Monday, and I'll find out then.