The idea of establishing a Friends of the Library group for the college has been tossed around several times lately. At first I was wary, suspicious that it could be used to cut the library's budget, but now I'm beginning to see a place for it. Previously I associated Friends groups with public rather than academic libraries, but nearby Rowan University has apparently had one since 1996. And at other academic institutions it is common for alumni to establish book funds, which are essentially the same thing by a different name. In the past our own efforts have resulted in a Dedicate-a-Book program, but it is not actively promoted right now.
I think a Friends group, or something similar to it, could be worth trying for a number of reasons:
(1) Despite the everyday frustrations common to working in a bureaucracy, many people are very engaged in the college community, and they genuinely want to see it do good things and do them well. I'd rather not approach people and try to persuade them to care about the library if they do not, but when they come to the library of their own accord it would be nice to have an established avenue for how they could help us.
(2) Fiscally, times are tight, and much of our budget goes to electronic materials. I think our patrons (a group which includes scholars, instructors, students, and the general public) still like to see printed books. They like the idea of books, and they like to think that libraries have books. They like books even if in practice they use electronic resources more often. So while our library devotes a lot of time and resources to electronic access, as long as the printed book represents academia, the library has an obligation to support a physical collection. Maybe the primary purpose of a Friends group could be to support that physical collection.
(3) When people want to give things to the library, they rarely think of electronic materials. Accurate or no, electronic materials are still considered ephemeral, while the library as a place is not. Heck, even I find the idea of donating electronic materials unappealing, and I'm firmly convinced of how important they are.
I think the next steps toward making this happen involve working with departments outside of the library, and this is where the real work begins.
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