The Friends strive to make as much money for the library as possible with as little overhead as possible. This includes cultivating an all-volunteer organization.”

Houston County Friends of the Library Old Book Sale sign

By J. Sara Paulk, Director, Houston County Public Library System

Friends of Libraries are volunteer, charitable groups formed to support their local libraries in various ways, including financially. The Houston County Friends of the Library recently defined success by giving the largest single donation in their history to the library system. The Friends’ donation of $40,000 was the result of their wildly successful annual book sale. However, their success relies on more than just the profits of a three-day sale.books displayed on long rows of tables at book sale

The Friends’ momentum began several years ago when several small splinter groups joined to become a single county wide group. This enabled the group to grow from 13 core members to 24 current members who process over 90,000 books, which are then packaged and put up for sale at the annual Old Book Sale. It has become a popular annual charity event for Houston County and the surrounding area. This event is guided by a clear plan and leadership, as outlined below.

The yearlong dedication of this all-volunteer group, led alternatively by Georgette Lipford and Pam Yates, is staggering. A core group meets weekly, almost year round, to evaluate items and prepare for each new sale. The Friends strive to make as much money for the library as possible with as little overhead as possible. This includes cultivating an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff.

The co-leaders have an absolutely focused purpose and are aided by years of institutional history. They have a strategy for what works, which they refine year to year, to lead the remainder of the volunteers with patience, grace and will. The Friends also cultivate support from outside agencies. For example each year, they receive logistical help from County workers who use forklifts to move pallets of books.

The Friends’ preparation and attention to detail is amazing. Maps of the book sale are provided to buyers as they enter the book sale area. In addition, rolling travel carts are available for rent so that people can buy more than they can carry. The Friends do not spend any more than is absolutely necessary and they give the rest to the library.

People looking through table of books during book sale.

In 2022, The Houston County Friends of the Library gave the library system $51,938 from two book sales, bringing the total amount given since 2005 to over $500,000. The money is used by the library to purchase books, audio books, cover library staff training expenses, bring in summer reading program storytellers, as well as purchase library furnishings and even a microfiche reader.

Finally, our Friends group is successful because library staff empower the volunteers by staying out of their way and providing support for them to manage their own events. The group has their own dedicated space in each library for smaller, ongoing sales, which are led entirely by Friends volunteers.

Their efforts have been recognized by the Houston County Commission, who have given them a proclamation, and by the“Fabulous Friends” Award from the Friends of Georgia Libraries in 2016.

Reach out to your local library to find out if they have a Friends of the Library group and how you can get involved.