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2019 News

Virginia Library Association honors Friends of VCU Libraries

June 18, 2019

The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) announces that the Friends of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Libraries has been chosen for the 2019 Friends of the Library Award. This is the first academic library Friends group to be recognized by VLA in more than 25 years. 

This award is presented to a Friends of the Library group in recognition of distinguished service to libraries in Virginia. The VCU Friends of the LIbraries was selected for their recent transformation into a society of committed donors focused on supporting the current and future needs of VCU Libraries. The Friends of VCU Libraries’ recent projects included introducing an endowed student scholarship fund, soliciting major gifts for the Cabell Library building fund, and forming a partnership with the Division of Student Affairs’ Emerging Leaders Program to more efficiently manage the annual book sale.

VCU Libraries’ volunteer support organization, the Friends of VCU Libraries, is led by a 16-member board, which has restructured its work to heighten its effort on the libraries’ behalf.

“Organizational change is challenging to manage, and this effort to focus the Friends where we need them the most is greatly appreciated,” says Development Director Kelly Gotschalk. “It will reap important long-range benefits in that our vital volunteers will be more engaged where their work matters most.” 

The Friends of VCU Libraries organization has supported a range of activities of the academic libraries on both the humanities and medical campuses since its founding in 1983. Recently, it completed an intentional and meaningful transformation that will benefit VCU Libraries far into the future.

Notable elements of this transformation include:

    • Redefining the group’s purpose from that of a membership organization to a giving society of committed annual donors. The board of the Friends of VCU Libraries has had a 100 percent giving rate every year since 2015.  
    • Embracing a creative, new business model for their annual book sale. For 20-some years, the Friends managed a large annual book sale with considerable staff assistance. In 2016, after a three-year hiatus due to library building construction, library leaders decided to recast the book sale as a community engagement project with less emphasis on the event as a fundraising project. To more efficiently manage the sale, the library formed a partnership with the Division of Student Affairs’ Emerging Leaders Program. These first-year students now work side-by-side with Friends members for the hundreds of hours required to take in book donations and to prepare for and run the five-day book sale. The student organization now receives a portion of the book sale’s earnings, which financially support their leadership program’s annual service projects on campus. The Friends’ openness and flexibility in adopting this new system are to be commended. This labor and revenue sharing model could be replicated at other libraries and it has many advantages, not the least of which is cross-generational interaction in which Friends mentor students and Friends also learn from students. Meanwhile, the book sale continues on as an important financial contributor with sales every year exceeding the previous year.
    • Taking a visible and tangible leadership role in making cash and planned gifts and assisting in soliciting major gifts for the New Building Fund. James Branch Cabell Library, VCU’s main library, underwent a 93,000-square-feet expansion and a 63,000-square-feet renovation that was unveiled in 2016. Friends members were instrumental in meeting a $1 million challenge grant in 2017 from the Cabell Foundation and they made and solicited many generous gifts at levels that would have been unheard of a few short years ago.  
    • Reorganizing the board’s committee structure to best meet the current and future needs of VCU Libraries. The 2016-18 board president took the board through a year-long SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and a strategic review of its purpose juxtaposed against VCU Libraries’ needs. This leadership effort resulted in a refreshed organizational structure that streamlines committee work. Some functions that were at one time reliant on Friends volunteers recently have been professionalized within a growing library staff. These include programs, events and special collections priorities. Therefore, some volunteer roles and committees no longer essential to VCU Libraries were retired.
    • Introducing a new endowed scholarship fund for students
    • Staging creative, hands-on interactions with students and alumni to strengthen connections to VCU Libraries. Recent efforts included tabling at a basketball game and a Valentine’s Day “librarylove” event and conducting a tee-shirt design contest for students and recent graduates.  

All Virginia Library Association award winners will be honored at the Awards Celebration on Wednesday evening, October 23, at Hilton Norfolk The Main, in conjunction with the VLA Annual Conference. For more information about this event

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