Board Manual - Community Relations
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Nebraska Library Board Manual

 CHAPTER CONTENTS Library Board & Community Networking & Influence Lobbying Advocacy Personal Promotion Friends of the Library Volunteer Support Foundations
      CHAPTER TEN
    CONNECTING THE LIBRARY WITH THE COMMUNITY:
    PUBLIC AND COMMUNITY RELATIONS

 

   The Library Board & The Community

Why is the library board’s connection to the community important?
Library board members are advocates for the library. It is their responsibility to see that the image of the public library is as positive as it can be. Good public relations do not just happen. It takes time and continuous effort to create a good image for the library.

Board members and the library director should work together in developing a sound public relations policy and action program. Such a program is essential to any library which expects to maintain and increase its support. Public and community relations can become the means by which the community knows, appreciates and uses the public library to the fullest extent.

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   Networking & Influence

What should library boards know about building networks and influencing people?
The library has many communities including patrons, city council, village boards, taxpayers and legislators, to name only a few. These various groups can become part of an effective network of support for the library. Building influence in the community is a three-part process for the board member: lobbying, advocacy and personal promotion of the library.

  What is Lobbying?

The political process is essentially a process of communication, and lobbying is persuasive communication. Lobbying is a formalized approach to getting library and patron needs before your elected officials. It is still informational, but it is designed to achieve a specific goal. It means getting to know legislators and government officials better, and helping them have a better understanding of how libraries impact their constituents. Develop talking points to address situations ; such as: serving people in rural areas who do not have many of the advantages of living in town; providing Internet and email connections for those who do not have them; providing life-long learning opportunities through the use of the materials and connections to other libraries. The mayor, city council members, village board members, county commissioners, the governor and state legislators must be convinced of the worth of the library in meeting the informational needs of its citizens, as well as its return on investment to the community it serves.

Trustees should also track library issues of local, regional or state concern. As volunteers, they have more freedom to support specific programs.

Here are some tips for communicating with your elected officials:
  • Get to know your elected officials before you need to approach them.
  • Stay informed. Keep updated on current discussion.
  • Call or visit with your elected officials and express your support for or against an issue.
  • Tell the people who are part of your network how they can add their support.
  • Participate in the annual Nebraska Library Association Advocacy Day.
How can a library board member communicate with a national and state legislator?
In the past the recommended contact method to use when contacting national legislators was via the U.S. Postal Service. However, because of cases of radioactive and/or poisonous substances being sent through the mail, the preferred method to contact our national representatives is now via e-mail. (All paper correspondence is irradiated before it is given to our elected officials. Damage to the paper and the message are not unusual.) In fact, all of Nebraska’s U.S. Senators and Representatives have websites offering citizens the capability of contacting them.

Following are some guidelines to follow, however, no matter the method of transmitting the information.

"Form" letters are rarely effective and should not be used. Stating your message in your own words is much better. Don’t over-burden your legislator with too much information or too many letters messages.

When sending any written correspondence:
The correct style for national officials is:
To your Senator:
The Honorable _____________
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator: ______________
To a Representative:
The Honorable _____________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. ___________ 
Body of the Message may contain the following elements:
  • Statement about what you want. (support or oppose)
  • Identification of the issue by subject and bill number (if you can have that information)
  • Explanation of why the senator or representative should do this. Add personal, people touches.
  • In closing, a restatement of your request and thanks to the senator or representative for considering your position.
  • Keep it brief. Supporting materials may be supplied as an attachment to the e-mail.
  • Offer to answer any questions the elected official or his staff may have.
Sincerely yours,

Correspondence with your state legislator may still be done via the U.S. Postal Service. However,
correspondence with these elected officials may also be conducted via e-mail.

The correct style for corresponding with your state legislator is:
    Senator ____________
    District # State Capitol
    PO Box 94604
    Lincoln, NE 68509-4604
Dear Senator:
(Body of letter. See above examples of items to include.)
Sincerely yours,

Always use your full name. Add your official position if you are speaking for an organization; your District # and preferred mailing address are important. A telephone number and/or email address may be included.

Other Forms of Communication:
  • Postcards are effective if they express your personal or official position. They may be used to communicate brief messages.
  • Email is useful when speed is a matter of consideration.
  • Telephone calls are useful to establish contact with the official’s staff. Staff persons do a lot of the research and keep a tally of opinions expressed by the official’s constituents. Get acquainted!
U.S. Senators’, U.S. Representatives’ and State Senators’ addresses are available in the publication, Nebraska Unicameral Legislature Roster. The link to this publication is:
The Blue Book, pages 83+ -- U.S. Government in Nebraska; U.S. Legislative Branch

It is published each session and gives local addresses as well as the office addresses of each official. It is available from the Clerk of the Legislature's office, Room 2018, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604.

There are some specific things that library board members are not allowed to do in their official capacity as a board member:
  • Unlimited lobbying.
  • Polling of candidates and publicizing results.
  • Targeted voter registration and "get out the vote" drives.
  • Distribution of candidates’ positions to influence voters.
  • Distribution of candidate-focused material.
  • Endorsement of specific candidates.
  • Contributing to candidates from public money.

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  What is Advocacy?


Advocacy is an informal approach to building support for the library. It consists of informing community leaders and library patrons of the services, programs and needs of the library as it responds to the community's needs. As an integral part of the community, library board members have a unique opportunity to work with other organizations in building networks of mutual support.

Some things library boards can do to help library services and programs become more visible:
  • Get involved in community activities – celebrations, social events, school events.
  • Offer to help with other organizations’ initiatives when it is appropriate.
  • Become personally acquainted with reporters/editors—other community "movers and shakers".
  • Serve on committees as an active member of the local Chamber of Commerce, service clubs, Inter-agency councils, or other agencies.
  • Place local, regional and state officials on your library’s mailing lists.
  • Invite government officials to library functions and involve them in your programs.
  • Provide a place for an open forum to educate the public on the issues.
Telling the library story never ends. Gather all the facts you can to support the message you wish to tell and use every opportunity to tell it. It is important that once the board has determined what the message is, all board members speak with one voice. You have the power to affect attitudes and change minds. Don’t try to hide information. Being open with your audience helps build trust and confidence in what you are trying to accomplish.

  What is Personal Promotion?

This is the most important element in building influence. The personal investment each board member puts into promoting library services is what will make the most difference. People relate to people. It is the board member’s task to be a trusted source of information about the library for the community. Board members need to ask the important questions and listen to the answers. The "L" (library) word needs to be heard loudly and often in the marketplace, on the street, in club meetings, at civic functions and in the media.

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   Friends of the Library

Trustees can also encourage the development of Friends of the Library, volunteer programs and/or public library foundations to help connect the library with the community.

  What are Friends of the Library Organizations?

A Friends of the Library organization is a group of citizens in the community who have a common concern for their library. Its members are interested in a closer relationship between their library and the public it serves. They are independently organized to support, promote, improve and expand their local library through funding, volunteerism and advocacy. Friends of the Library groups may be organized as 501(c)(3) not-for-profit groups or they may operate under the "umbrella" of another not-for-profit group such as the Library Foundation in the same library. (See information following this section on organizing the Library Foundation as a 501(c)(3) group.)

The functions of the Friends of the Library and the library board are not the same and cannot be treated as such by either group. Informed Friends groups and library boards working cooperatively with and through the library director can be of valuable assistance in the total public relations effort of the library.

  Why Organize a Friends of the Library Group?

Friends groups are recognized as among the most important citizen groups in the library world. They benefit libraries by their activities and representation of community needs and interests. They generally are organized with one or more of the following objectives:
  • To create public support.
  • To encourage gifts, endowments and memorials for the library.
  • To provide direct financial assistance by purchasing for the library special items which could not be purchased from the budget.
  • To intensify community awareness and use of the library.
  • To sponsor programs.
  • To aid in public relations.

  How are Friends Groups Organized?

Essentially a small group of people may resolve that a "Friends of the Library Group" be formed to accomplish certain aims. Sometimes library board members and the library director decide to start a group. Regardless of who initiates the formation of the group, careful planning is essential.

Begin by organizing a small steering committee that includes board members, the library director and people with proven concern for the library. The steering committee lays the groundwork for the initial meeting which should be open to the public.

The Steering Committee should:
  • Set the time and place of the first organizational meeting.
  • Have membership blanks stacked by the library checkout desk and extend personal invitations to public officials and special interest groups such as book clubs and service clubs.
  • Decide who will be chairman of the first meeting.
  • Write a draft of bylaws to be approved and establish goals, objectives, and purpose.
During the first organizational meeting the agenda might include:
  • Welcome by a member of the library board.
  • Introduction of library director.
  • Explanation of the purpose of the Friends group.
  • Election of officers including nominations from the floor as well as a list from the nominating committee.
  • Review and adoption of bylaws.
A complete set of model bylaws for a Friends of the Library group can be found at the end of the chapter. Another excellent resource is United for Libraries (aka ALTAFF), a division of the American Library Association. The Nebraska Library Commission pays for membership in United for Libraries for all of Nebraska’s public libraries. Refer to the Library Organizations and Associations chapter for more information.

After the initial meeting, it is a good idea to publicize the formation of the Friends group and announce its officers. The group will want to continue to recruit members actively throughout the community as they form committees and begin to work.

Anyone interested in joining and promoting the library should be welcomed to the Friends of the Library. This may include families, children, local businesses, media representatives, authors or community organizations, to name just a few.

  How does the Library Board work with Friends of the Library?

Friends groups differ from library to library; however, within the library, the Friends group is distinctly separate from the library board and library administrative structure.

The library director must want a Friends group, and the library board must be aware of them. All involved must understand that Friends do not make policy. They exist to promote the library. Often it is from these loyal supporters that library board members are chosen. Membership in the Friends also is a way for former board members to continue their service.

The library board should assist the Friends group and support its activities by providing leadership in the following ways:
  • Developing a policy on Friends and volunteers
  • Working with the library director to draft procedures and regulations relevant to Friends' activities.
  • Meeting periodically with the Friends board to plan and define goals for the group and to maintain open communication.
  • Inviting and welcoming Friends to library board meetings.

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   Volunteer Support

Another significant working relationship for the library board is with the volunteers who not only offer their personal time and talents to the library, but also can be some of the library’s best advocates. Careful initial discussion and planning can help ensure that a volunteer program will remain healthy and productive. Although volunteers can accomplish many tasks for a library, they simply cannot replace the functions of the trained professional staff. For the larger library seeking ways to cut costs and for the small library that is just a few steps from its volunteer beginnings, there is a temptation to lean on volunteers. For all libraries, however, certain rules apply in the use of volunteers. Volunteers should not supplant or replace established staff positions. Volunteers should not be given work that staff is paid to do.

A volunteer program is most productive when it is planned and approved by the staff and the library board. It should be run according to the best employment practices including training, evaluation and development, with clarity in work descriptions, and expectations of the volunteers.

A successful program will have realistic expectations of hours donated and types of work to be done. It will provide for recognition and appreciation of volunteers. Volunteer duties may include assisting with programming, special projects, outreach services, story reading, shelf-reading (scanning the shelves for misplaced books) and book mending, to name just a few.

Cooperation and support by the library board is vital to a sound volunteer program. Board members should show appreciation for good volunteer assistance.

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   Foundations

What is a public library foundation?
A library foundation is a non-profit corporation that exists to provide a link between philanthropists and the library, in order to solicit and receive gifts, bequests, grants and property of any kind, for the use and benefit of the library. The foundation also will hold, manage, operate, sell, exchange, invest, reinvest and generally deal with property that may come into its possession for the use of the library.

The foundation is independent of the library board; however it may include board members and the library director ex-officio. The foundation board will consist of any individuals who are interested in the progress of the library, and those with expertise in financial management.

  Why Establish a Public Library Foundation?

Nebraska public libraries receive primary funding from the governmental unit - village, town, city, township, county -- whose residents they serve. Many Nebraska libraries, however, find that they would like to purchase a special piece of equipment or special library materials or establish a program beyond the reach of the library’s operating budget. Libraries planning for major capital expenditures such as a building addition, renovation or a new library building find that special funding will be needed.

A successful library foundation is a vehicle for the library to receive supplemental funding for such special, one-time expenditures. A library foundation gives the residents of the library's service area an opportunity to show their support of the library through financial contributions of any size including real estate and bequests in wills. A library foundation makes the public library more visible in the community. Through its publicity, it calls attention to the public library as an important institution worth investing in.

  The Relationship Between a Public Library and its Foundation

The public library is a governmental entity. The library foundation is a supporting non-profit private corporation. Whereas monies donated to the public library directly become public monies and as such must fit into the library's budget for the fiscal year, monies donated to the library foundation remain private monies for the support of enhanced public library services. Such monies can be invested for the long term for special purchases and projects that the library would like to undertake.

Foundation money should never be used to replace regular, ongoing expenditures such as operating expenses (salaries, utilities, supplies), regular materials purchases (books, periodicals, non-print items), or routine maintenance. It should be made clear to the governmental entity (village board, city council, county board), of which the public library is a part, that the role of foundation monies is for special projects only, not for expenditures for which the village, town, city or county has been and should continue to be responsible for.

It should further be made clear to the governmental entity that the library foundation is a private, non-profit corporation created to support the public library for special purposes. For good public relations, however, the foundation will want to keep the community informed of its assets, activities and successes.

  Establishing a Public Library Foundation

The library's board should discuss the formation of the foundation, making sure it is understood what a library foundation is, why it is desirable and what its function will be. The board should then identify one or more board members and/or library staff members who will pursue the formation of a library foundation in the community.

The library board or a committee should discuss the matter of the foundation's governance. How large will its board be? How will board members be chosen? How often will the foundation board meet? Who might be asked to serve on the board? It is important for purposes of communication that the library board be represented on the library foundation board, but it is equally important that the library board not control the library foundation. To do so would negate the idea of the library foundation as a voluntary association of dedicated public library supporters.

The foundation officers will, however, understand the goals and policies of the library and undertake projects that complement and advance the library presence in the community. A library foundation does not have to accept a donation if the conditions for giving are in conflict with the directions and practices of the group or the library.

With the assistance of a local attorney, the library board or a committee should draft articles of incorporation and bylaws for the foundation. It is important that these documents conform with the Nebraska statutes Chapter 21, "Corporations" and the federal tax code so as to qualify under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. After the articles of incorporation and bylaws have been drafted, two or more incorporators need to be identified along with a registered office (usually the public library). The articles of incorporation are then prepared, signed and dated. They are sent to the Nebraska Secretary of State's office with a filing fee. A legal notice must appear for three successive weeks in the local newspaper which announces the formation of the new private, non-profit corporation. The library foundation, having met all state requirements for its establishment, will need to furnish the Secretary of State's office a biennial report and pay a biennial fee.

The library foundation, having become legally established, will need to convene its board of directors and elect a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. The treasurer will then be directed to file for 501 (c)(3) status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Once this status has been achieved, the foundation will be in position to solicit and accept gifts on behalf of the library allowing library supporters to receive full credit on their tax returns.

The library foundation should develop a brochure or information sheet, making its existence known to the community and encouraging giving by the public.

For more information concerning the establishing of Friends groups or public library foundations, contact your regional library System Director or the Nebraska Library Commission. Also go to the following link to United for Libraries for excellent information on the formation of both library Foundations and library Friends groups: http://www.ala.org/united/

  What is the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF)?

The Nebraska Community Foundation, headquartered in Lincoln, is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing financial management, strategic development and education/training services to communities, organizations and donors throughout Nebraska since 1993. The Foundation provides affiliated fund status (allowing communities or organizations to achieve nonprofit charitable status without forming their own nonprofit corporation). Over the last several years NCF has worked to provide funding for libraries located in Nebraska communities with 3,000 or fewer inhabitants. The relatives of Shirley Kreutz Bennett and NCF have worked with the Nebraska Library Commission to make grants available for building/renovation projects, for improving library services, and to help unaccredited libraries gain accreditation. Visit the foundation’s website for more information on the work NCF does and on these grants: www.nebcommfound.org.


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created 2006; rev. 7/2015                                                        For more information, contact Holli Duggan

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