Library gets by with a little help from Friends

Even books and libraries need friends.

In fact, without Friends of the Harrisburg Library, Harrisburg residents may not even have their own community library.

A group of Harrisburg residents formed in 1997 with a goal to raise money to build a local library. They succeeded, but original board members slowly disbanded over the last decade and stopped functioning as a board.

Lisa DiVincenzo and others re-established an official board in March. They wrote new by-laws and a new mission statement. Some members even say it might have been divine intervention, as they reorganized just as harsh budget cuts hit throughout the area's library system. The library went from 10 employees to four and cut its weekend hours.

DiVincenzo, who worked part-time at the Harrisburg library for two years before being laid off, is the current president of the FOHL. Most, if not all, libraries have similar organizations, and there are state and national affiliations of the group. The FOHL are 110 members strong, including board members. The group also is listed in The Charlotte Observer's annual Giving Guide.

DiVincenzo said she would love to see the entire community become a member of the FOHL. She has a database of about 5,000 addresses, and if they all joined for just one year, it would raise $50,000 for a library that was once the second busiest in Cabarrus County. Today, it is the third busiest, behind Concord and Kannapolis branches, because it isn't open on Fridays and Saturdays, two of its busiest days.

"Think of what we could do with that money," said DiVincenzo. "Think of the programs we could add instead of supplementing the ones we do have. Think of the physical improvements we could make to the library. It would change the life of the library."

There is a $10 annual fee to join the group, and membership forms are available at the library. All the money the group raises goes directly into the Harrisburg library.

Donations of time and talent often help more then the monetary types, but there are many ways to help.

"We've had an amazing turnout of volunteers at that library," said DiVincenzo. "The volunteers are amazing. They put in so many hours."

There's a volunteer at the library nearly everyday, said DiVincenzo. More than 50 are signed up to volunteer, and more than a dozen help at least once a week. Volunteers logged 130 hours in November alone.

They also help with fundraisers, such as the October book sale that raised more than $5,000 for the library. They help create "literary baskets," which are built around donated books and other items. They range from $5-$25 and have raised at least $400.

The libraries buy-a-brick program allows patrons to get a brick engraved and placed in the library's walkway. The cost is $100 per brick. With funds raised from that program, the library has bought a new book drop, six new wheeled book carts, shopping baskets that patrons can use to carry their books and an up-to-date globe.

Future projects could range from making a dedicated teen area to fencing in the patio area behind the library to host educational programs.

Monetary and volunteer support also help keep key programs alive, such as the library's summer reading programs, which serve more than 5,000 people each year.

"Volunteers are important, but the talent of other professionals also is needed and appreciated," said DiVincenzo.

And locals heed the call.

A communications consultant helped create the FOHL's monthly publication and membership forms. The group's treasurer needed financial guidance, and a local accountant advised the group. An owner of a local storage facility donated free unlimited storage.

The volunteer coordinator, a local retired woman, is a godsend, said DiVincenzo. She even drove a volunteer to the library once because they couldn't make it on their own.

"She has been one of our greatest assets," said DiVincenzo. "She is able to do most of her organizing and communicating from home via email and has helped develop an organized system so the library and the volunteers know when they are needed, who to contact if they are unable to make it, and if there are any special requests for additional volunteers, she gets the word out."

The group supports the library and its community by providing volunteer services, increasing community awareness, providing financial assistance and serving as an advocate and encouraging donations.

"We always welcome monetary donations, and they are very important, but donations of time and talent are important also," she said. "We hope to have a huge membership base to pull from when a volunteer or professional need arises. We are a community library, and only with the communities support will we be successful."