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Friends to the end

FOL

RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier
HOLLACE McDONNELL, 12, looks for books at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library’s Book Cellar. The bookstore, which sells donated used books, is operated by the Friends of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, a nonprofit group that donates thousands of dollars each year to fund projects not in the library’s budget.

By SARA ARTHURS
Staff Writer
It’s been said that one can never have too many friends. This is especially the case for the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, which has come to rely on the support of a large group of dedicated friends.
The group, formally known as the Friends of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, is a nonprofit organization described in its brochure as “enthusiastic supporters united by a common concern for the well-being of the library.”
The organization contributes thousands of dollars to the library each year, and is hoping to grow its membership and perhaps do even more.
Jeff Winkle, library director, said the Friends organization helps the library to purchase services or programs it couldn’t otherwise afford.
One recent gift was a sensory wall and activity wall for the library’s Early Literacy Center for young children, which Winkle said was a donation of about $5,000. Another was the purchase of two computer workstations.
Winkle said when he sees needs like this he brings it to the Friends. The group also bought a popcorn machine that’s used when the library hosts movies, which Winkle said is something he wouldn’t have spent the library’s funds on but which has proven popular.
The Friends of the Library also raises money for scholarships for library staff and recently assisted two employees in pursuing their master’s degrees. Winkle said going back to school is “an expensive process” but it benefits the community if librarians are well educated.
Contributions are made in small ways as well as big ones. One contribution was to purchase 10,000 library card sleeves, with library information including hours of operation. Winkle said this seems a small thing but was well received and patrons ask for them.
The Friends group has also paid tuition for the Mazza Institute for library children’s services staff members, purchased Nook and Kindle giveaways and bought monthly BookPage review magazines for complimentary handouts. It reimbursed library booth expenses for the Hancock County Fair and KidsFest.
The organization will be contributing to the campaign for the library levy renewal which will come up for a vote in May 2015.
In addition to members’ dues, the Friends also accepts donations, gifts, memorials or bequests. Donations can also be made to the Friends of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library Fund at the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation.
But Winkle said the biggest financial contributor, “by far,” is the Book Cellar, the bookstore run by the Friends that is located in the basement of the library.
In the last two years the bookstore has brought in $11,000 each year, said Book Cellar manager Steve Pardi. That’s from selling items at, generally, $1 for hardback books and 50 cents for paperback books. A half-price sale held once or twice a year typically brings in close to $3,000 in just two days.
Winkle said the library receives a “tremendous” amount of donations from the public for the bookstore. The biggest problem is finding storage. The Book Cellar accepts books, VHS cassettes and audio CDs and also sells items that the library has withdrawn. Donated DVDs go to the library’s collection rather than being sold.
Cookbooks are the top sellers at the Book Cellar, Pardi said. Nonfiction generally sells better than fiction, especially history or geography books. Pardi said one challenge is to keep the inventory in the store balanced, rather than having a lot of fiction and not enough nonfiction. While all donations are welcome, Pardi said he’s particularly eager for cookbooks and nonfiction such as history, geography, religion and ethics.
Many library patrons don’t even know the Book Cellar exists, he said.
Pardi, who has been the store’s manager for three years, is the only paid employee at the Book Cellar which is otherwise staffed by volunteers. There are 36 volunteers on the roster, some of them substitutes. Pardi said there are more volunteers than there are shifts available.
The bookstore is open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays.
Winkle, who has been library director almost five years, said that while the most visible efforts of the Friends are the financial contributions, the group also advocates for the library and helps promote literacy.
“I think the Friends are really important advocates for the library,” Winkle said.
He said informally, over dinner or at the grocery store, Friends members share what the library means to them.
“Word of mouth is very important,” he said.
The group has 95 members. The library has about 35,000 library card holders, so just a small percentage of library patrons join the Friends, something Winkle said has been a topic of discussion.
“We need more members,” he said.
Becoming a member requires a monetary donation. Friends are encouraged to volunteer but this is not required.
Winkle said members are motivated by a belief in the library and support of its mission of literacy. But there are also perks such as an invitation to a preview of the annual book sale.
Friends members are mostly seniors rather than younger adults. However, the outgoing board president, Lucas Opperman, is a 21-year-old University of Findlay senior.
Opperman is a third-generation Friends board member with both his grandmother and his mother having served on the board before him. He said he has helped out with Friends’ book sales “since I was a small child.”
He said he takes pride in the Friends’ effort to “grow reading” and improve the literacy rate in Hancock County.
His hope for the future is to see more members.
“We’re just looking to expand,” he said.
Opperman said he has seen groups like this that have “died out” and he doesn’t want to see that happen to the Friends. He’d like to see at least 25 to 50 more members.
He said one reason he wanted to be on the board is to encourage the younger generation to get involved. Although Opperman will soon leave the board to attend law school out of the area, his brother will be coming on to the board.
The Friends will hold its annual meeting in February. Officers will be elected and board members sworn in and Winkle will give the State of the Library address. He’ll make requests for the library, which may include paying for a performer to kick off this year’s Summer Read program.
Subsequent meetings are scheduled for May and September.
Membership dues are $15 per year for an individual, $25 for a family and $5 for a full-time student or senior citizen age 60 or older. For those who want to contribute more it’s also possible to buy a “contributing,” “sustaining,” “patron” or “benefactor” membership ranging from $35 to $250.
Donations are tax-deductible.
Anyone interested in joining can pick up a pamphlet at the library or print the information off the library’s website.
Online: http://www.findlaylibrary.org/fotl Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

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