The Role and Impact of Friends of the Library Globally

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friends of the library

Friends of Libraries groups, known in various regions as Friends of the Library and sometimes simply as Friends, are vital non-profit, charitable organizations dedicated to supporting libraries within their communities. These groups, which operate independently from the libraries they assist, are typically composed of volunteers. Their support encompasses financial, political, and cultural aspects, ensuring libraries receive the necessary backing to thrive.

In the United States, these groups often collaborate with the American Library Association (ALA), while similar organizations exist in countries like Australia, France, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, each adapting to the unique needs of their local libraries and communities.

Diverse Functions and Structures of Friends of the Library

Friends of the Library groups engage in a range of activities, from advocating for public support of libraries to providing resources and financial assistance. Historically, they have primarily supported public libraries, but academic libraries also benefit from their aid, albeit to a lesser extent.

These organizations are typically well-structured, with memberships, regular meetings, and a formal constitution. They often work closely with library management or library boards, playing a significant role in decision-making processes related to the use of funds and resources. In some instances, such as in Sedona, Arizona, Friends groups have even taken on roles in library administration.

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Fundraising and Advocacy Efforts

Fundraising is a key activity for many Friends groups, with methods ranging from book sales and membership drives to operating retail spaces within libraries. These efforts can be substantial; for instance, a 1987 study by Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA) revealed that groups with an average of 213 members could raise significant funds annually. These funds are often used for purchasing books, equipment, and supporting library programs.

Advocacy is another critical aspect of their work. In the United States, Friends groups have been known to engage in political activism to support library-related issues. They also serve as community ambassadors, raising awareness about library services and needs.

Celebrations and Special Initiatives

In the U.S., Friends of the Library groups have a dedicated national week of celebration, highlighting their contributions and promoting library services. Some groups have been instrumental in significant projects like building new libraries, as seen in Naples, Florida, and in supporting libraries in remote African villages through organizations like Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL).

Historical Perspective and Global Reach

The history of Friends of the Library groups is rich and varied. The UK traces its origins back to the Elizabethan Period, while the first group to officially use the “Friends” title was founded in France in 1913. The U.S. saw its first Friends group in 1922 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. These groups played a crucial role during challenging times, such as the Great Depression, and have continued to grow in number and influence.

Internationally, the National Library of South Africa and the Friends of Libraries Australia (FOWL) are notable examples of the global presence of these groups. FOWL, for instance, has even established Junior Friends groups to engage younger generations.


Friends of Libraries groups represent a powerful force in supporting and advocating for libraries worldwide. Their diverse activities, from fundraising to political advocacy, demonstrate a deep commitment to ensuring libraries remain vital community resources. As these groups continue to evolve, their impact on libraries and the communities they serve remains a testament to the power of collective effort and dedication. You may find more information by reading through the various articles on Lisbdnet.

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