Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

July 10, 2019; Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, KY)

This week, the Messenger-Inquirer reported the expansion of the Friends of the Daviess County Public Library, Inc. into a nonprofit to support their public library, providing funding and advocacy potential for the system—and the community at large.

Charity Navigator shows the nonprofit has filed as a Foundation with a 509(a)2 status and as a B01 (alliance/advocacy) organization within the realm of educational institutions and related activities. The 509(a)2 status allows the organization to support their exempt function through the sales of materials or admission fees. This would cover their existing October book sale and any potential future program admission fees while still allowing the group to take in gifts and apply for grants. Through their B01 activity code, they can influence public policy within the education group, which could help with, as library director Erin Waller puts it, “efforts to bring the community together and tackle literacy initiatives.”

It is important to note the specific tax and activity codes when groups transition into a nonprofit. While Waller relays board involvement and allied engagement goals to support this library, not every “Friends of the Library” group has allied their interests to their library.

Last year, NPQ’s Marian Conway covered the difficulties the Santa Maria Public Library had while working with the Friends of Santa Maria Library. The Friends of Santa Maria Library is a foundation, governed and operating independently of the library’s leadership. They raise funds for the library but also retain the ability to dictate where and how those funds are distributed. This becomes an issue because they can use their dollars to influence programming. Or, they can choose to spend their money on specific Friends expenses. The legal dispute between the library and its “Friends” came down to control over Friends programs and funds.

There would not be any issues if the Friends of the Santa Maria Library were strictly a supporting organization. But what “supporting” looks like can differ from group to group. With Friends of the Daviess County Library, their tax codes allow them to support the library in areas of policy and advocacy on top of raising funds, which is a very important distinction.

The Messenger-Inquirer article does hit pretty heavy on the potential for better fundraising for the library. It also touches on the potential for community building. Waller says, “It isn’t just reading or books; it is a community.” And community is exactly why public libraries benefit from having as much support as possible, including legislative and advocacy support.

Libraries are more than just the books. Just within the past year, NPQ’s Steve Dubb has reported on libraries acting as essential public spaces, affordable housing partners, and as centers for inclusiveness and support.

As libraries evolve into vital community players, it will be great to see friends of all sorts find ways to become meaningful supporters for them and their programs. Libraries are typically funded through taxes and other supplemental funding. Foundations and other supporting organizations try to fill in the gaps. Friends of the Daviess County Library will surely be able to fundraise and advocate on behalf of the library with their current filing status.— Sarah Miller