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Princeton Public Library to Keep `Friends’

Friends First Vice President Sherri Garber setting up for the 2011 Friend book sale. (Planet file photo)

The Princeton Public Library Board of Trustees voted this morning to abandon efforts to consolidate two separate library fundraising groups, the Friends of the Library and the Princeton Public Library Foundation.

Library Trustee Andrew Erlichson proposed that the trustees drop the consolidation idea “recognizing the importance of the contributions the Friends make and their stated strong desires to keep their own organizational structure.”

Instead, he and others suggested that a joint committee be created to improve communication between the library, the foundation, and the Friends. The trustees approved the proposals, with President Katherine McGavern casting the lone vote against dropping the consolidation effort.

For more than 50 years, the Friends group, an independent non-profit organization, has provided financial support to the library. The Friends hold an annual benefit and run an extremely successful annual used book sale to raise money for the library. The group has won several national honors for its work, including the Gale Cengage Library Development Award.

Over the past two years, the group has given $700,000 to the library, and has also pledged $100,000 to the library’s endowment fund. A 21-member council oversees the work of the Friends.

“Our success is based on an esprit de corps and a sense of pride,” Friends President Julia Bowers Coale said. “We work for the library with a sense purpose — to raise money for the library — but we are not directed by staff, and we are not told what we can and can’t do. There is a high level of group autonomy.”

The library trustees have been looking at the possibility of merging the Friends with the foundation for more than a year. But some Friends members said they only learned of the merger proposal in February and were not included in previous discussions.

“It is as if you already decided it was a done deal and then you came to us. That is the way we have been taking it.” Coale said. “There is a question of trust in the relationship with the library. Right now the trust part is on pretty weak footing. We need to try to adjust that.”

Coale told the trustees the Friends are in favor of what is best for library. “But it is really important to us that we be part of the process,” she said. “It seems to us that we are the public — we are part of the public in `public’ library.  If the library wants to expand, it should expand into the public, but not draw it into itself.”

If the Friends and foundation merged, the library trustees would appoint the members of the new fundraising organization. One Friends member told the trustees that forcing the Friends to merge would be bad for morale and would squander the human capital the Friends offer. “It would be like throwing it in a trash in a can and lighting a match to it,” she said.

McGavern said the trustees have the legal responsibility to do what is best for the library, and that after reviewing the facts and research on the issue, she feels strongly a merger of the organizations would be best. “Uniting the Friends and the foundation would allow the library to be much stronger in its development efforts going forward,” she said.

“It seems it would make a difference in the structural way we do business that would be to library’s benefit, not in just a casual way,” she said. “I understand the human capital issue. The last thing we want to have happen is to do damage to people who do the phenomenal job you do.”

Erlichson argued that consolidation is not worth pursuing if it demotivates the Friends though.

“We do argue and have to beg for money (from the Friends) sometimes, but the total amount sometimes is as little as $30,000,” he said. “That’s one percent of the library budget. It’s a 1-percent problem,  a 1-percent problem that is not worth solving.”

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  • Interested

    Didn’t something like this happen to the Princeton Hospital Auxiliary and its Foundation? (I only heard vaguely about that so could be wrong.) It sounds like an organizational evolution that is happening in many non-profits that serve the public, and is bound to raise ire when there is a lack of communication such as described here – which is a shame, when you have a group that has been so successful in fundraising.

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