What the true definition of a friend?

A friend is someone who is attached to another person by feelings of affection or personal regard, and because of that, offers them assistance or support.

In a nutshell, that’s exactly what a Friend of the Library is. In the state of Florida, public library funding comes from a county’s general revenue funds and from the Florida State Aid to Libraries grants. But that funding does not completely cover the needs of a library, by any means.

That’s where Friends of the Library step in.

The Friends of the Punta Gorda Library group was established in 1967 and legally incorporated as a non-profit in 1977. President Katie Mazzi says that their mission is to serve as a community advocate for the Punta Gorda Library, to encourage reading and to provide for financial support for the library.

“We provide funding to augment the library collections (books and other media), and we fund children and adult programing, which includes supplies and speakers, etc., both in the library and at venues around the community,” she said. “We also provide materials for the library staff to give out at the Back to School Nights at our local schools, and have paid to remodel parts of the existing library, upgrade equipment, pay for furniture and be of financial assistance wherever possible, based on the library needs.”

Friends groups primarily raise money to support their efforts in bookstores they host in the libraries they serve. Books, CDs, DVDs, magazines and other media are usually donated and the stores themselves are run by volunteers.

They also hold book sales and sell memberships to the Friends group for a minimal fee.

Donna Stogsdill, president of the Friends of the Library Englewood Charlotte County, said that in addition to providing library resources, her group also brings in speakers, hosts a cooking series and provides scholarships to local high school students through their senior year in college.

“We provide financing for the Kickoff reading programs for kids at the end of the school year and many other interesting programs,” she said. “At the Kickoff, we provide hot dogs, entertainment and a commitment to read all summer long. In the library, we also provide the children’s furniture, rugs and supplies for art projects.”

Those children’s reading programs are of major importance to the Friends. Studies have long shown that children who are read to early in life typically become earlier readers themselves. And educators know that it’s especially important to keep a book in students’ hands in the summertime, when they’re not in school. That’s when, if they’re not reading at home, their reading skills begin to erode.

Sally Baker, president of the Friends of the Port Charlotte Public Library said that her library’s Summer Reading Program is always a primary recipient of her group’s aid to the library.

“It was the biggest reason that we and the library began the Read n’ Feed program about five years ago,” she said. “For various reasons, the Bookshop is not suitable for reading programs for children, because there’s not enough space, no running water or bathroom facilities, so those programs are held in the library. We ask our librarian to give us a wish list for what she needs each fiscal year, and we provide the funds for most of it.”

The Read and Feed program is held during the months of June and July, and includes an activity from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., followed by a free lunch. Some of the activities already being planned for 2019 are presentations by the Peace River Wildlife ambassadors, robots from the Southwest Florida Library Network, magicians, musicians, crafts and more.

Besides drawing from their resources to present programs for children, when the libraries require money for new equipment, resources or building enhancements, it’s usually the Friends they call on.

Some groups, like the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library, host annual fundraisers. Their Literary Luncheon has become a popular community event, and the one for January of next year, with New York Times and International Best Selling Author Paula McLain, is already sold out.

“Our current goal is to see the completion of the new Punta Gorda Charlotte Library, and we’ve worked for many years to see this new library begin construction,” Mazzi said. “We donated $50,000 to Charlotte County to help pay for an enhanced exterior on the new building, and we will be paying to furnish the Friends bookstore in the new library, as well as help with some of the other furnishings in the new library. We are also excited that the new building will have a large meeting room so we can have more presentations and events.”

Baker said that her Friends’ group largest recent purchases have been cabinets for their meeting room cabinets and flooring for the Book Store, and providing funds for magicians, storytellers and other entertainers for the children.

Ultimately, the Friends of the Libraries groups consist of legions of volunteers who are always looking for ways to help their home libraries. Whether it’s giving their time in the bookstore, writing grants or seeking private and corporate donations, their devotion to the cause all comes down to one thing: they love reading and books and want to provide opportunities for everyone else to enjoy them, too.

Stogsdill, who just recently took over the president position with the Friends of the Library Englewood Charlotte County, said that her goals for next year are to keep providing new, different and engaging programs for library patrons of all ages to learn new things.

“We would love to present more children-orientated shows— musicians and children’s plays are being considered for this year,” she said. “We’d like start reading a weekly movement/music program with an art project, and we will also host a play-geared Mommy and Me Tea for children. Our goal is to improve publicity for our programs, gain more attendance and get more members to join.”

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