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In search of friends — library ones

Meeting July 14 to gauge interest in nonprofit to support, advocate, raise funds

HOPING FOR A TURNOUT — Jennifer Cesta, left, public relations coordinator for the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, and Sarita Asawa, community outreach coordinator, are hoping a July 14 informational meeting about interest in establishing a Friends of the Library group generates support. The informal meeting will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Main Library at 407 S. Fourth St., Steubenville, and include a free light lunch. To register or for information, call the Main Library at (740) 282-9782. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County is looking for some friends.

Not necessarily the kind to hang out with or talk to or go places with, but friends to help make the library system an even better place to be, according to Sarita Asawa, community outreach coordinator.

Her idea is to form a Friends of the Library group, a nonprofit that exists alongside the library to support, advocate and raise funds through popular activities such as used book sales, senior citizen programs and galas.

Sound inviting?

Asawa hopes to gauge interest in its establishment at an informal meeting scheduled for July 14 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Main Library, located at 407 S. Fourth St., Steubenville.

“We will provide a light lunch for all attendees and would like to see anyone who’s interested, curious or has ideas,” Asawa explained, noting people interested in attending can register by calling the Main Library at (740) 282-9782.

“To get things going we are looking for a steering committee who will likely become the executive board, but we would love to hear everyone’s ideas,” Asawa explained. “I’m hoping for five to eight committed members to decide the direction of the Friends group as well as feedback from many others who want to volunteer on a more general level. There’s no limit to how large or small a Friends group is — it depends on the needs of the community,” she added.

So who exactly are Friends of the Library?

“Friends are enthusiastic library supporters who believe in the importance of libraries in their communities,” Asawa noted. “Members are individuals who use libraries and organize library fundraisers to foster increased development. Some of the most popular fund-raising activities include used book sales and galas,” she added.

A Friend of the Library would sign up for membership with a commitment being as little or as much as desired.

“Once the direction of the Friends is decided and which events they would like to conduct, details about membership and commitment can be arranged,” she said, pointing out that some common membership perks include things such as a “members-only book preview sale.”

A Friends of the Library group is needed, according to Asawa.

“Over the years, we’ve had many requests to volunteer at the library. A structure like the Friends of the Library allows us to work with volunteers from across the entire community,” she noted. “After the huge success of the used book sale, we’ve realized that there is both an interest and a need for continued book sales. During the course of two days, we had more than 600 customers who brought home hundreds of books,” Asawa said.

“Traditionally, used book sales are conducted by a Friends group, and we want to do everything we can to continue this as an annual tradition,” she continued.

“The Friends will decide where the funds generated by fundraisers are applied — many times the money goes toward specific projects, increased programming or exclusive Friends of the Library events. We hope this will provide a fun way for our community to actively engage with the library.”

The recently held used book sale was the first one attempted by the library system in more than 25 years, according to Asawa.

“It was a bit of a trial run to see if it was something that Jefferson County wanted. Given the response from the book sale, it’s a resounding yes. Traditionally, used book sales are used by a Friends group as a fundraiser for their goals,” she said.

Asawa explained why fundraising is important for a library system.

“While we have wonderful economic support and patronage from our community in Jefferson County, there are many things we would love to offer to the community beyond what we already provide,” she said.

“Fundraisers could be used for larger summer reading club prizes, popular author visits (like Lisa Scottoline, Kathy Reichs or Shelly Shepard-Gray), a maker space or children’s circulating STEM kits,” Asawa continued.

“All fundraising funds would directly impact the community and bring even bigger and better events, programs and items to Jefferson County. Beyond fundraisers, I see the Friends as a huge opportunity for us to learn from our community and work together toward a common goal.”

Asawa imagines there are many things a Friends of the Library Group could do.

“I have several ideas floating around that I would love to see happen,” she began.

“Primarily, I’d like the book sales to continue — it was wonderful to see so many people enjoying the (used) books (sale), and I think it’s a great way to give a used book a new home. More than that, I would love an opportunity to work more closely with volunteers from our community. The Friends will provide an opportunity for me to learn and engage with our patrons in a real and exciting way.” she said.

“One of my big dreams is to see a Library of Things in Jefferson County,” she added.

“A Library of Things is a new service within the library world that enables our patrons to check out items that they may want to try out before purchasing or only need once in a while. I’ve seen libraries offer everything from ukuleles, small kitchen appliances, tools, cake pans and craft kits. I love the idea of being able to check out an air fryer from the library,” she said.

A Friends of the Library group is not a new concept.

“It is very common in both small and large libraries across the country,” Asawa said. “We would love to help one start here.”

Jennifer Cesta, public relations coordinator for the library system, agrees.

“The Friends of the Library group will be a great opportunity for people who want to become involved with the library on a volunteer basis,” Cesta said.

“The communities in our county love their library. This group will be a great support system to reach and involve people with the library and for creating future projects.”

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