'Friends' enrich library experience

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Quarterly book sales, from donated books, help finance some of the efforts of the local Friends of the Library organization.

A small group of library enthusiasts in Mountain Home are working to make the community a better place literally one book at a time.

The Friends of the Library group does more than help foster people's enjoyment of reading, said Ed Sharp, who was named the group's new president earlier this month.

Throughout the year, these men and women provide various types of support, all of which is aimed at enhancing what the city's public library has to offer. To cover the costs to run these programs, the friends group spends a considerable amount of time working to raise money.

Every penny they collect directly benefits the library, said former group president Lauice Bentz.

"We don't ask for money. We make money," Sharp added.

Mountain Home had a similar friends of the library group many years ago, but it eventually disbanded. The current friends organization formed in 2006 and continues to bring in new members.

During the group's first meeting eight years ago, one of its main challenges dealt with the literally thousands of donated books the library had received over the years. All of these books had remained sealed inside boxes stored in different places across town.

"Every time we sort out those books, I think to myself that Mountain Home must be the 'readingness' city in the world because we get tons of books contributed to us," Bentz said.

Looking at reducing this stockpile, the group hosted the first in a series of book sales. It not only helped to reduce this inventory of used books but also began the first effort to raise money to benefit various library programs.

Today, the friends group hosts an average of four book sales per year, the latest of which raised more than $500. In addition, they maintain a donation cart in the library where people can regularly buy additional hardback or paperback titles for a dollar or less.

Those cart sales alone bring in an additional $80 for the friends group each month, Bentz said. In some instances, people will read these books and return them to the library where they go up for sale once again.

"We do well on these sales, and we're an organization that doesn't believe on sitting on our money," Bentz said. They take those funds and use them to continually make improvements at the library like its current youth reading initiatives.

While the library is permitted to accept contributions and donations from the public, it can't use this money unless those funds are added to its yearly operating budget. Even when this money is budgeted, the library staff has to wait for the next budget cycle to begin before they can spend this money, Sharp said.

The friends group doesn't have that restriction, meaning it can put these donations and other contributions to good use right away, according the Bentz.

While they do buy books, it's just a start, she added. Keeping pace with advances in technology, they've used those dollars to buy new computers and electronic devices for the library along with electronic books and other products.

The demand for computer access at the library caught Bentz off guard. She was astonished at how many people use the library's computers and other electronic devices every day.

But books and computers are just a start, she added. Fundraising efforts allow the library to host various programs throughout the year at no cost to the public. Among them is the yearly American Girl tea party, whose popularity with girls and their mothers encouraged the friends group to develop a similar adventure program for young boys and their fathers.

Meanwhile, the friends of the library provided additional support for programs tied to special events like the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Library Traveling Exhibit that came to Mountain Home back in 2010.

The friends group includes a group of roughly 30 people, all of whom share a common passion for books and libraries. The each had their own reasons for joining.

Sharp became a member simply because he enjoys reading, and he also appreciates the benefits of having a public library in Mountain Home.

"You actually get to see the improvements that you've implemented," Sharp said. "The library really uses us to buy a lot of really good stuff."

Bentz also credited the library staff, whose work hard provides a wide assortment of programs to others in the community.

The friends of the library meet at 10:30 a.m. the third Thursday of each month in the library conference room. To get involved in the group, call Sharp at 587-7050.

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