Evy Nordley Award for Best Project

Hotlinks: 2022 Application | Hall of Fame


The Evy Nordley Award is MALF’s flagship prize, and one of our oldest. Its namesake, Evy Nordley, devoted decades to championing Friends of the Library. She did so as head of the Washington County Friends, a director of Friends of Libraries USA (now United for Libraries), and a founder of the Minnesota Association of Library Friends.

Throughout her “second career,” Nordley pushed Friends to step out of their traditional comfort zone and explore new and promising initiatives. Moreover, she practiced what she preached. Under the auspices of the Minnesota Humanities Commission, Nordley brought to life a hugely popular “Minnesota Chautauqua” programming series driven by Friends and other state humanities organizations.

After Nordley’s passing in 1997, MALF created the Evy Nordley Award to recognize the commitment to Friends and appetite for replicable innovation that she exemplified. 

Evy Nordley.jpgPrizes: 

MALF is pleased to offer $1,000 and a customized plaque to the top place finisher. First runner-up receives $500, and third place receives $250. All finalists also receive a matted certificate of recognition.

Applicant Eligibility: 

Friends of the Library entrants must be based in Minnesota and attached to a public, K-12 school, college/university, or special library. Individuals, non-library charities, and libraries themselves cannot apply. Current membership in the Minnesota Association of Library Friends is a prerequisite for consideration. (However, if necessary, annual dues may be submitted with award application.) Previous years’ finalists and winners are strongly encouraged to reenter for the 2022 cycle. You may also submit multiple candidate projects as part of this or any Evy Nordley cycle.

Applicants must be in good standing with the IRS and Minnesota Secretary of State. NOTE: Public charities whose annual gross receipts are normally not more than $5,000 may receive tax-deductible charitable contributions without filing an application with the IRS. However, they are still required to register with the IRS and file Form 990-N Electronic Notice ("e-Postcard") for Tax-Exempt Organizations Not Required to File Form 990/990-EZ.

Project Eligibility: 

Common project types are special events, successful fundraisers, membership drives, and advocacy campaigns – but the sky is the limit!

Any Friends-supported project is eligible, provided that (1) project implementation began after January 1, 2021; and (2) either the Friends or their library was the primary beneficiary. (In other words, efforts jointly developed with or sponsored by non-Friends organizations are qualified under many circumstances.) If you have specific questions about the eligibility of a particular project, call 651-366-6492 for clarity.

How to Apply: 

Use this form to outline your project or initiative. Answer each section fully and carefully; MALF’s judging rubric follows this same outline. If a piece of information seems relevant to multiple categories, do not hesitate to duplicate select details as necessary. You are also welcome to submit supplementary materials as appendices (such as photographs, news articles, attendee or donor testimonials, etc.)

Mail your Evy Nordley application to “Minnesota Association of Library Friends, 1080 Montreal Avenue, Suite 2, Saint Paul, MN, 55116.” Please also email your materials to info@mnlibraryfriends.org. All entries must be emailed by 11:59 p.m. Friday, July 1.

Notifications + Next Steps: 

All applicants will be notified of finalist outcomes by mid August.

COVID-19 Update: In lieu of any in-person presentation, a representative from each finalist group will be asked to prepare a brief PowerPoint and record a 10-minute talk outlining the planning and implementation of their project. MALF will handle the tech considerations, including but not limited to recording and editing.

These pre-recorded presentations will be broadcast online as part of Saturday Splash on September 24. Evy Nordley candidates are not obligated to attend that program in real time. Presentations will be archived on MALF's website and YouTube channel. 

Award money will be remitted by MALF in late September or early October. 

2022 Evy Nordley Award (Finalists - Winner Announced 9/24)

Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault enjoys a long, strong track record for public/private partnerships. It stretches back to 1930, when area resident Anna Buckham funded the original construction in memory of her late husband. That largesse and commitment to Faribault are alive and well today through the Friends of the Buckham Memorial Library.

For nearly a decade, the local Friends have puzzled over how the library can better take advantage of its prime real estate at the head of busy Division Street.

“We longed for a welcoming outdoor space that is accessible to all and expands the reach of the library,” explained board member Stefanie Tywater Christiansen.

Specifically, they envisioned a versatile public plaza. The Friends shouldered the costs associated with a professional appraisal and renderings, and then shared a provisional game plan with library leadership. Other community stakeholders, including the mayor and Historic Preservation Committee, also weighed in with feedback.

In hindsight, 2020-22 proved the perfect time to prioritize this investment – for two reasons. First, it coincided with major infrastructure investments by the City of Faribault in Division Street and the Buckham Memorial Library’s parking lot. (In other words, the extra disruptions caused by plaza construction were minimal.) Second, this work coincided with the pandemic. For obvious reasons, COVID-19 prompted everyone to gain a new appreciation for outdoor public spaces.

On top of the $18,670 required for the architectural plans, The Friends put forward more than $238,000 towards construction. In order to make the new space both usable and unique, they then donated still further funds for fixtures: trash receptacles, tables, seating, and other weather-resistant furnishings. In total, The Friends' financial commitment to this project passed the $300,000 mark.

In addition to active collaboration around design and funding, the Friends worked alongside the library on an awareness campaign. This culminated in an unveiling ceremony to dedicate “Faribault’s Front Porch.” That celebration included live performances by steel drum and bluegrass bands – a perfect exhibition of the space’s multiuse potential.

Christiansen noted that the dedication celebration proved a wonderful inducement for community members who were not otherwise in the habit of visiting Faribault Public Library. By and large, these attendees came away with a new, expanded understanding for what the century-old institution offers Rice County residents (inside and out).

As next steps, the Friends are actively exploring how to leverage community partnerships to economically “plus up” the library’s newest amenity with additional landscaping, a shade structure, and even play areas.

Grand Rapids is home to more than a dozen assisted living complexes, dementia care units, and other senior housing options. Itasca County residents feel fortunate that they can secure elder care in the same community most have called home for decades. (Their counterparts in similarly sized communities are not always so lucky.)

Staff and Friends at Grand Rapids Area Library have identified this growing senior population as a comparatively underserved subset of the community. In their ongoing effort to close the gap between seniors’ needs and library services, the local Friends recently invested in a dozen specially crafted Memory Kits.

Memory Kits are not an altogether new concept for libraries. As the name suggests, each is a loanable activity pack designed to spark memories and mutually enriching conversations between people experiencing dementia and their loved ones.

“Before committing to or buying anything, we spoke with other libraries to learn what has and has not worked well other places,” explained board member Mary Jo Wimmer. They also sought insights from ElderCare, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that hosts Adult Day Stay services for seniors.

The Friends came out of this research phase believing two things: that their Memory Kits should each be themed, and that all should be comprised of only sturdy or easily replaceable materials.

For the project’s pilot phase, The Friends designed and invested in seven Memory Kits. Themes include A Mother’s Love, At the Movies, Gardening, Nature, On the Farm and Pets.

Wimmer reports that the Friends spent roughly $150 on each, including the costs of duplicate items they worried would be easily damaged or worn out and difficult to replace. They also took the time to laminate all paper elements (including kit manifests and all activity instructions).

The Friends could not have asked for a better initial response. Grand Rapids Area Library reports that each Memory Kit has a long holds list.

Other community partners have taken note. “Our target audience were residents in memory care, or in dementia units at nursing homes,” Wimmer explained. However, discussions with the local Rotary Club and North Star Women’s Club made clear that there could be a much broader audience for Memory Kits.

“For example, veterans and their families might benefit – as well as people contending with traumatic brain injuries. Even people in hospice care might find joy in Memory Kits.”

Needless to say, The Friends are already hard at work crafting new Memory Kits to add to the library’s growing collection!

Valentine’s Day falls squarely in the middle of National Library Lover’s Month. That’s a happy coincidence that The Friends of Ramsey County Libraries couldn’t help but notice. Late last year, the Friends board began brainstorming ways to capitalize on this too-perfect opportunity to learn why residents value their local library.

As executive director Mary Worley explained: “We were looking for a new way to engage our current members, but also interested in hearing stories from a broader segment of patrons… and in turn, to build awareness of the Friends among community members who may not be familiar with our organization.”

As a means towards those ends, the Friends debuted their pilot LOVE YOUR LIBRARY campaign this February.

Here’s what it looked like in practice. Volunteers installed so-called story boxes at high traffic points within each of the system’s seven libraries. These could be described as cousins to the ubiquitous “comment and suggestion boxes” seen at businesses of all types. However: Unlike the latter, which tend to blend into their surroundings and attract scant attention, the Friends made it a priority to design flashy boxes sure to draw the attention of passersby. They invested $177 in attractive “ballot style” boxes, $85 in graphic design support for project branding, and another $110 in supporting signage.

As a last expense, organizers allocated $100 for a gift card prize, awarded to one lucky project participant at the conclusion of the submission window. This modest investment – less than $500 total – paid big dividends.

Between February and April, “we were overwhelmed to receive well over 400 heartwarming notes and impactful stories from library lovers of all ages and backgrounds,” Worley said.

Even those closest to the project quickly lost track of how many patrons referred to their library in glowing, evocative terms like “an oasis,” “my second home,” and “a godsend.” One patron shared how he met his wife at the library. Another, who participated in the campaign through a proxy, shared how Ramsey County Libraries is a vital information lifeline for his fellow detainees at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility. (Those two notes, along with many others, can be found here.)

The Friends shared findings with librarians via a collage board and staff meeting presentation. However, as Worley notes, The Friends did not take on this project merely for a short-term morale boost.

“We wanted to generate a quote and story bank for future public advocacy, private fundraising, and ‘friend’ raising… and we’ve done exactly that!”

2021 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Flamingoes may be native to Florida and the Caribbean; but over the past year, the distinctive pink birds have made quite a squawk across Austin, Minnesota. Bewildered and amused residents have the local Friends of the Library to thank.

Board members Elizabeth Carlton, Morgan Carlson and Kristie Mickelson devised their alliteratively named “Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser” in fall 2020. They did so with two goals in mind. Foremost, the Friends wanted to raise awareness for both their organization and the Library itself. Second, they hoped to add a little levity to their community in a year defined by a pandemic and contentious election. On both these counts, springing roving bands of gaudy birds on unsuspecting neighbors proved as effective as it was creative!

As a secondary benefit, Flockin’ Flamingoes also proved a surprisingly lucrative fundraiser. “We were able to borrow the majority of our flamingoes, which really helped with our overall budget,” explained Carlton. In all, the Friends purchased only 40 of the iconic yard decorations, but mustered a gaggle of almost 100.

Donors had the opportunity to “hire” flamingoes in batches of one, two or three dozen – up to a maximum tier of 60 plastic birds. They then selected a friend, family member or co-worker to be the recipient or target (depending on one’s point of view) of this avian attention.

Friends of the Library maintained the deployment schedule, and shuttled the flamingoes where they needed to go in the dead of night. They also designed weatherized, corrugated signs to accompany the birds, explain their purpose, and inform passersby where they could learn more.

For its pilot season, Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser ran from October 12 to November 22. In that time, the Friends took no break days and fulfilled a total of 79 orders. “We actually had to stop accepting orders around October 26, because I had serious concerns about not being able to complete them all before the ground got too hard,” Carlton shared.

Austin Friends of the Library’s experiment netted $1,985 in proceeds and considerable buzz in the community. As one metric of the latter, flamingo-focused posts on Facebook consistently reached 500 people a day – a significant boost over normal levels.

Unsurprisingly, the group is already laying groundwork for the return of the now-infamous Flockin’ Flamingoes Fundraiser. Among other tweaks to the model, they intend to start earlier in the summer, to get the most out of their “birding season” before the first winter snowfall makes staking impossible.

As you can glean from the name, denizens of Detroit Lakes consider lake life to be a core part of their identity. This goes double in summertime, when seasonal residents and tourists balloon the City’s population by as much as 40 percent. For this reason, the area’s lake amenities took center stage in Detroit Lakes’ recent Sesquicentennial commemoration.

As a cornerstone of this anniversary celebration, a coalition of community stakeholders came together to launch “150 Sails Up in DL.” In this ambitious public art project, organizations of all kinds sponsored and collaborated with area artists on the creation of 150 sailboat sculptures.

Each boat is made of steel and concrete and measures either 4 feet or approx. 2 feet in height. However, each is truly one of a kind. Themes and styles run the gamut, with subjects as disparate as loons, sunsets, agates, pizza and popsicles coming together to tell a cohesive story about life in Detroit Lakes.

Becker County Friends of the Library partnered on not one but two of the most popular sailboat sculptures. These include “Unlimited Curiosity,” a stained-glass mosaic created by Detroit Lakes artist Becky Mitchell. It now graces the exterior of the historic Carnegie Library and invites passersby into this place of learning and discovery.

For the library’s interior, Friends and staff partnered with artist Eric A. Johnson on a 20’’ sculpture christened “Gohn Be Funky From Now On.” A medley of colors and shapes, this smaller sailboat is a sort of Rorschach test that encourages kids to use their imagination. Both installations debuted in early April at a Sailboat Regatta Party, the tentpole event of the Detroit Lakes Sesquicentennial. They then moved to the Detroit Lakes Public Library, where both will be on display through December 2021.

The Friends of the Library smashed their initial fundraising goal for this endeavor in just ten days. This enabled them to rent a third sailboat sculpture. “We The People,” by Erinn Prischmann Webb, features Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now graces the library’s YA section.

“We hope to see an increase in traffic inside the library,” explained co-organizer Terry Kalil. “The greater goal, though, is to inspire creativity in all who view our sailboats… and demonstrate Detroit Lakes Public Library’s role as a leading education and culture center in our community.”

The Seattle Public Library is commonly credited with creating the “One Book” or “Community Read” program model in the late 1990s. In the two decades since, major American cities from San Francisco to New York City have followed suit by creating their own beloved One Book initiatives. However, community read programs are not just the purview of large and urban communities, as small Cook, Minnesota can attest.

Cook is a town of 500 residents located deep in Saint Louis County, about halfway between Duluth and the Canadian border. During the summer months, Lake Vermillion area cabin dwellers swell the Cook Public Library’s small service area. During this high tide, staff are fortunate to have hands-on support from local Friends of the Library, who take on a range of volunteer duties within the tiny, 1,350-square-foot library.

In the winter, however, the Library has the polar opposite problem – pun intended. Once the weather cools, the patron base shrinks. It can be difficult for staff to find new amusements to engage and enrich year-round residents as the community waits for the spring thaw. As one means to that end, librarian Crystal Phillips suggested a Community Read.

The Friends did not pick a featured title – at least not directly. Instead, they oversaw a bracket vote that allowed residents to choose from 104 books. Administered at the library over the course of 16 weeks, the voting system drew 1,428 ballots. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie eventually emerged as the winning title.

The Friends purchased 20 new copies of this old classic for giveaways and library circulation. In true Community Reads fashion, while the organizers incorporated a book club into the festivities, that was only a beginning. Other highlights included special movie screens of Death on the Nile (2004) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), with viewing licenses paid for by The Friends.

As the capstone event, Cook Public Library also hoped to hold an interactive murder mystery event on site. Sadly, COVID-19 gathering restrictions forced the cancellation of this last component.

Despite that setback, organizers consider Cook’s inaugural One Book program a great success. After all, 1,428 ballots cast is a tremendous accomplishment for a library in a town of 500!

Grand Rapids Area Library is among the handful in Minnesota that boasts a permanent Friends bookstore on site. Ordinarily, this year-round stream of income is the Friends’ “golden goose,” with proceeds bankrolling much of what the organization does for the Library. When the pandemic brought an abrupt and protracted halt to sales, however, the board realized they needed to think beyond their comfort zone.  

Ironically, the Friends did not have to travel or look far for their Big Idea; all they had to do was step outside the Library. Grand Rapids Area Library’s exterior façade is graced by a massive mural of a chickadee. It is one of several naturescapes by Carlton County artist Adam Swanson that can be found in and around Grand Rapids.

In January 2020, a Friends task force approached Mr. Swanson about profiling his iconic work on a series of Friends-branded notecards. He agreed to this novel partnership, and under generous terms; for every $20 box that the group sold, he would take a $4.50 commission.

Even with this green light, the Friends faced a number of choices and challenges. First, which of the decorated artist’s works would they profile? They ultimately decided to double down on the Northland theme, which is a favorite of Swanson’s. In addition to the famous library chickadee, each packet of eight cards features a wolf, black bear, moose, and other animals native to the area.

When it came to printing, organizers opted to keep their money local and partner with a Grand Rapids vendor. They recouped some of these higher production costs by securing clever in-kind donations, such as transparent corsage bags from the local florist to “box” the card sets.

Promotion and distribution proved the biggest puzzlers of all, given the Library’s prolonged closure. As a workaround, volunteers secured permission to conduct sales out of the building’s drive-up window. They then spread the news as widely as possible, including with a front-page mention in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

Grand Rapids Area Friends hit their production targets in time to roll out the new fundraiser for the 2020 holiday season. In all, they netted an impressive $2,500 – not bad for a “Plan B” fundraiser. They hope to build on this debut effort in advance of the 2021 holiday season.

2020 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

With an easy return to pre-pandemic “normalcy” seeming less and less likely, more and more libraries are doubling down on virtual storytimes for their youngest patrons. Large and nationally reputed libraries like New York City and San Francisco have enjoyed the limelight over the past several months for their rapid adoption and perfection of this new style of programming. However, as parents and tots across central Minnesota can attest, the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library have been right there with the Big Boys from the beginning.

brainerd.pngThe beginning, for all intents and purposes, was mid-March 2020. Long-time board member Sheila DeChantal landed on the concept as the perfect way to keep kids engaged with their Library during the unprecedented facility closure.

In a lightning fast turnaround, “Reading with Friends” moved from idea stage to implementation after just one brainstorm meeting and several frenzied calls with possible readers.

Fortunately for DeChantal, she had a ready short list of qualified prospects to tap. For the past eight years, The Friends in Brainerd have coordinated Wine and Words – a hugely successful gala featuring popular authors hailing from across Minnesota and beyond. Wine and Word “alumni” including Barbara Claypole White, Kristina McMorris, and Heather Gudenkauf volunteered to take early shifts. DeChantal herself took the inaugural morning slot on March 23, with the apropos selection “The Night Library” by David Zeltser.

Hungry for content, families tuned in – to the tune of 200-1,200 hits per episode. These impressive figures factor in views of recordings available after the time of original broadcast. Ready availability of that archive is a prime reason that The Friends tapped Facebook Live for their livestream needs.

facebooklive.pngThese numbers augured well. “While we did not place ads, we received newspaper and radio coverage for what we were doing, because it was one of the first programs back up and running in our community after COVID hit,” explained DeChantal.

Once the program gained momentum in this way, volunteers came out of the woodwork to apply. Between March and May, readers representing community organizations as diverse as the YMCA, United Way, and Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce put themselves forward. Naturally, library staff and Friends leaders also took a turn – or two.

Daily story times (excluding Sundays) concluded May 2. During this run, nearly 70 videos racked up an impressive 27,881 hits. Moreover, the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library grew their Facebook following nearly 50 percent: from 724 to 1,059.

In other ways, the dividends are harder to quantify. “We now have people checking in to see what we’re doing next,” DeChantal noted. The Friends parlayed some of that interest into views in their summer experiment: a series of Brown Bag Virtual Author Visits featuring award-winning novelists like Peter Geye, Brian Freeman, and Sarah Stonich.

Ifial.jpgn addition to more than 350 brick-and-mortar public libraries, Minnesota is home to dozens of bookmobiles and outreach stations. Satellite service sites like these are necessary to extending regular library service to residents in Minnesota’s most rural areas. The compact Isanti Outreach Library (part of the East Central Regional Library) is a perfect example.

Outsiders could be forgiven for not expecting anything beyond the minimum from Isanti Outreach Library. It is tucked into one corner of Isanti City Hall, has just one computer terminal, and is open only four hours a week. In many ways, however, this Library hits beyond its weight class. The Friends of the Isanti Area Library (FIAL) and their periodic book sales are one reason why.

While book sales are of course a Friends fundraiser staple, we’re not aware of any before now that have been held in a bowling alley!  

It wasn’t always this way. Lacking spaces within their modest Library to organize and display materials, FIAL hosted their first five annual sales inside a member’s home. Once the materials on offer approached 4,000 (in a town of 5,200, mind you!), this venue became untenable.

Mike Warring, owner of Junction Bowl, sits on the board of the Friends. For the sixth annual sale – held in February 2019 in conjunction with I Love to Read Month – the Friends set up shop at this popular community establishment on the north side of Isanti.

FIAL Book Sale MW.jpegWishing to optimize the added square footage and “plus” the event, FIAL invited area authors to set up tables around the periphery of the book sale for meet-and-greets and signings.

This move drew book lovers who do not frequent book sales as a general rule. FIAL’s strategic pricing structure also drew in browsers from every adjoining county and beyond.

“We sold all materials for 25 cents each. When asked why we didn’t charge more, we reminded people that our primary goal is getting books into the hands of citizens – making money is secondary. For example, I saw one mother with three children at the sale. She told them they could each choose only one book, because that’s what she could afford. If we charged even 50 cents, those children could have missed out.”

At the same time, however, volunteers manning checkout encouraged buyers able to do so to donate to FIAL beyond this base fee. Consequently, revenue on the 1,700 items sold was substantial by the standards of a rural outreach library.

FIAL will use the proceeds in expand their community reach in the coming year. Among other uses, they intend to purchase Give & Take Bookshelves (somewhat like a Little Free Libraries) for installation within various community businesses.

Some say that it’s not about what you know, but who you know. However, any such distinctions are moot for husband-and-wife team and Marine Library Association stalwarts Gayle Knutson and Jim Maher. Their latest passion project, “River Radio,” is the newest initiative to come out of an unconventional Library with a long track record for creativity.

river-radio.jpgMarine Community Library is one of only a handful of volunteer-run public libraries in the Upper Midwest. Although formerly part of the Washington County Library system, the Library reconstituted itself as a Friends of the Library operation after budget belt-tightening threatened its closure in 2011. While small in square footage, the Marine Community Library offers most of the services available at larger and more conventionally funded libraries.

Knutson and Maher are prominent among the residents who regularly contribute their time and talents to the Library’s operations. In fact, Maher is currently chairperson of the Association’s board of directors.

Providentially, both Friends are also veterans of the radio world. After the heightening coronavirus pandemic brought normal operations to an abrupt halt in March, the pair decided to deploy their skills in service to the Library. With assistance from fellow Friends, they hatched “River Radio” – named in homage to Marine’s location along the St. Croix River.

Ingeniously, the partners realized that you don’t need FM airwaves – or even a true station – to pull off a successful radio show. They invest just a few bucks a month into a Zoom videoconference subscription, which they tap for its reliable audio recording and broadcasting capabilities.

River Radio debuted on March 28, and new episodes have debuted weekly ever since. Featured subjects truly run the gamut, and this impressive topical diversity is matched by guest speakers’ credentials in their respective fields. Knutson and Maher have welcomed Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, NPR/MPR senior economics reporter Chris Farrell, and award-winning folk musician John Gorka. Other guests to date have included the mayors of Marine and Scandia, University of Minnesota specialists in economics and epidemiology, and representatives from the National Park Service and varied history and culture institutions.

_logoSmall.jpgUnsurprisingly, given the origins of River Radio, speakers from area libraries and bookstores are also frequent guests of Knutson and Maher.

As you can glean from that line up, the program offers timely content on the unfolding COVID-19 crisis – as well as much needed diversions.

“We feel that River Radio has had great impact on the wellbeing of the Marine community, offering at least something from the Library during the continuing closure,” explained Loralee DiLorenzo, vice chair of the Marine Library Association. On-air surveys, available through Zoom to listeners who tune in live, corroborate the sentiment.

Fortunately for residents of Marine – and really, anyone in or even beyond Washington County who cares to tune in – River Radio is likely to stick around. “The Library is considering offering occasional episodes for part of the summer, and then a more regular schedule again in the fall.”

2019 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Used book sales remain, hands down, the most popular and most visible type of Friends fundraiser. However, there’s plenty of room for experimentation with this tried-and-true favorite, as the Friends of the Grand Rapids Area Library can attest.

grandrapids.pngIn November 2018, they held their first-ever pop up sale. The reasoning behind this move is both simple and profound.

Over the past decade, reading habits have changed for a significant slice of bibliophiles. In this era of e-readers, trekking to the library or book store is no requirement – you can find materials from the comfort of your couch. With grassroots initiatives like Little Free Libraries, physical books and serendipitous discovery are attainable close to home, as well.

Pop up sales, held in a nontraditional (read “non-library") location, seemed like a logical enough extension on the trend.

Organizers faced two questions at the onset: when, and where? The Friends ultimately landed on the first Saturday of November, because the date coincided with Itasca County’s deer hunting opener. Unsurprisingly, Grand Rapids sees steady visitor traffic that weekend. Moreover, the town typically hosts many small bake and craft sales that week, and a pop-up book boutique fit nicely with the tradition.

November also allowed The Friends to brand this inaugural pop-up event as a holiday kickoff, of sorts. The Friends stockpiled Christmas books all year long, ending up with 20 boxes chalk-full of seasonal cookbooks, children’s books, and craft manuals. Materials representing nearly all other genres rounded out the offerings nicely.

As advertised, the pop-up Holiday Book Boutique was there and gone in a flash. The short-term nature of the event added to the appeal; proceeds surpassed $1,200.

Not content to rest on their laurels, The Friends began planning for a follow-up as soon as the holiday season came to a close. Scheduled for May 2019, this second pop-up event was Earth Day themed. (After all, what is a used book sale, if not recycling in action?)

For this spring reprisal, The Friends worked with the City to rent the historic Old Central School in Grant Rapids’ downtown district. They received the short-term use free of any charge.

This second sale ran a scant three hours: from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Even in that short window, The Friends pulled in an impressive $800.

Secondary benefits from the pop-up format are no less noteworthy, shared Friends president Mary Jo Wimmer. “The one-day, pop-up nature of this sale seemed less overwhelming to volunteers.” For that reason, The Friends’ call to action attracted an entirely new pool of helpers. These included students from a local parochial school, who provided valued set-up assistance.

Wimmer is confident that some of these new volunteers will reappear. “Many viewed the pop-ups more as a community service, than a sale, because the prices are all kept so affordable… We think that’s exactly the right mindset.”

On January 26, 2019, the notorious Northern Austin Mob Outfit faced off against their bitter rivals – the South Side Gangsters – on the neutral ground of the Austin Public Library.

If this sounds more like an old story ripped from a bygone headline, that’s because it is… sort of. The Friends of the Austin Public Library manufactured this confrontation as a plotline in its inaugural Murder Mystery Dinner fundraiser.

These two gang syndicates never really existed, but the storied Prohibition Era in which they operated certainly did. When the Board of the Friends first floated themes back in June 2018, the Roaring Twenties stood out as the perfect backdrop for this inaugural program.

austin.jpgFor historical verisimilitude, as well as cost effectiveness, The Friends then sought a community partner to co-host this fundraiser. After exploring all options, they entered into an agreement with the Hormel Historic Home (HHH). Located five minutes down the road from the Library, this Italianate residence was once home to George Albert Hormel, founder of the Hormel Foods Corporation. It operates today as an independent not-for-profit.

The match-up seemed logical to The Friends. They already collaborated with the HHH on a monthly series, the aptly named History Happy Hour. Past offerings have ranged from evenings with the likes of author Walt Whitman and 1880s baseball legend Billy Sunday, to off-site excursions – including walking and bus tours.

For the Murder Mystery Dinner, the Hormel Historic Home agreed to wave venue rental fees and to assist with ticketing.

In order to populate this 1920s version of Austin, organizers then turned to the Mower County theatre community. Approximately twenty actors from the Summerset Community Theatre and Riverland Community College theatre department agreed to take part, free of charge.

In yet another move to control costs, The Friends opted to offer hors d’oeuvres in place of a full, plated dinner.

In a cheeky nod to Prohibition theme, they branded a cash bar as a speakeasy, and discreetly offered each attendee a teacup of champagne. The caterer not only played along, but offered The Friends a 20 percent discount off their services as a donation to the organization.

Tickets to the Murder Mystery Dinner sold out in less than two weeks, thanks in part to aggressive advertising supplied by the HHH. Radio promotions, plus a poster campaign around Austin, also played a role. All told, the night netted a profit of $923 to The Friends.

“The number one surprise was seeing how many people wanted to come again – and how many who didn’t attend and want us to do it again after hearing how much fun the night was,” said organizer Bethie Carlton.

They may indeed reprise the event at some point… which doesn’t augur well for the new and fragile accord between the Northern Austin Mob Outfit and South Side Gangsters!

[Finalist] Friends of Brainerd Public Library: "Little Free Library Partnerships." 

As parents everywhere can attest, getting children to behave in a restaurant setting can be an iffy proposition. Most eateries offer crayons to keep little ones occupied throughout the meal, but what if they could provide something more?

The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library recently asked themselves this very question.

crowwingco.pngWhile it may seem out of left field, the restaurant sphere is actually one that The Friends is coming to know well. Over the past couple of years, they have partnered with Brainerd-based 3 Cheers Hospitality on their tremendously successful Books, Burgers and Brews (BBB) programming series. BBB is a play on the traditional book club, and features one-of-a-kind dishes specially designed by the head chef to pair with the book of the month.

In an extension on that existing partnership, Friends leadership approached the LLC about installing Little Free Libraries in its two most popular Brainerd Lakes establishments: Prairie Bay Grill in Brainerd and Sherwood Forest Lodge in nearby Nisswa.

Little Free Library, the nationwide “take a book, share a book” phenomenon, boasts more than 75,000 stalls. Founded by a Minnesotan in Hudson, Wisc., in 2009, our state is home to our fair share and then some. However, few if any Minnesota installations can currently be found in restaurants, according to the nonprofit’s website.

When approaching the restauranteur, The Friends pledged to keep both Little Free Libraries stocked with quality books sourced from their donated book inventory. Whenever either box ran low, the manager could simply call for a curated shipment of replacements.

In exchange, each kiosk would display a Friends decal reading “compliments of the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library” – along with a website URL and other basic information about the group.

3 Cheers Hospitality jumped at the opportunity. Thus far, The Friends have been asked to replenish the books at each approximately once a month! That is, if anything, a conservative assessment of the libraries’ popularity. According to staff, many families will borrow and enjoy a book for the duration of the meal, and return it right where they found it on their way out the door.

This is a good sign, to be sure; and the anecdotal evidence has been equally heartening. “We love hearing at our book sales how someone found their last great read at Prairie Bay, and learned about us and our events in the process,” said Friends president Sheila DeChantal.

3 Cheers Hospitality boasts half a dozen other restaurants in north central Minnesota, and The Friends are strongly considering doubling down on their Little Free Library initiative with a Phase 2 expansion.

The Red Wing Public Library dates back, in some shape and form, to 1893. That original incarnation of the beloved public institution - much like the young river town itself - would be unrecognizable to modern denizens of Red Wing.

The one-room library did not circulate its materials, and patrons were not allowed to browse the stacks. The sole staffer (paid $300/year in 1893 dollars) retrieved materials upon request. This made research inherently difficult, as the library lacked a card catalog to point them in the right direction. (However, a printed manifest was available, but only for purchase!)

In late 2017, the Board of Trustees approached the Friends of the Red Wing Public Library about collaborating on a historical project to profile this and the many subsequent chapters of the Library’s long history. In point of fact, background work for a hoped-for book had already commenced. However, the Library lacked the wherewithal to give the volume a professional veneer, acquire the rights to appropriate illustrations, and get it published.

After some back and forth, The Friends agreed to spearhead a special fundraising push to hire a research historian and shepherd the project to completion.

redwing.jpgPhase I required collecting $2,500 to hire the needed contractual help. As a means to that end The Friends’ standing fundraising committee drafted a targeted mailing teasing the long, untold history of the library – and summarizing The Friends’ own long track record for championing value-added projects of exactly this sort. After expenses, this campaign netted $2,599.

Going a step further, The Friends also researched and interviewed potential historians, to find just the right partner for the book. Ultimately, they landed on Char Henn, a Red Wing local and director of the Red Wing Pottery Museum – a subject matter expert if ever there were one.

Galvanized by that early success, The Friends opted to continue their support of the publication project with a special event: a harvest-themed autumn tea party and silent auction. Keynoted by Ms. Henn and Minnesota romance writer Lizbeth Selvig.

Friends volunteers worked overtime to make the tea event as cost-effective as possible. Christ Episcopal Church, located down the street from the Library, offered their spacious dining room, kitchens, and A/V equipment free of charge. Local businesses supplied each of the auction offerings.

In lieu of working with an expensive off-site printer, The Friends convinced the Library to allow for flyers, invitations, and other promotional pieces to be printed in house on the facility’s own computers (with cost defrayed by The Friends). This cut down markedly on the print publicity budget.

"The overarching objective was to raise funds for writing and publishing our history of Red Wing Public Library. This was the promise we had made," reiterated project lead Lois Burnes.

"During the planning process, however, it became clear that this fundraising format could be repeated annually." They intend to do just that, with the proceeds benefitting their Library in other needed ways.

2018 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Today, Meinders Community Library in Pipestone, Minnesota is home to a state-of-the-art makerspace – one that a public library in a community three times Pipestone’s size would envy. Its free resources range from 3D printers and stop motion animation equipment, to cricut machines and industrial staplers.

DSC_0341.JPGA well-equipped makerspace represents a significant financial commitment, and one that Meinders Library did not make lightly. In order to gauge interest for and demand in these cutting-edge library amenities, the Library turned to the Pipestone Area Friends of the Library.

On May 20, 2017, the Friends hosted “Full STEAM Ahead,” a celebration of science and creativity that showcased the various technologies available through a permanent makerspace. (For those unfamiliar with it, STEAM is an education acronym for Science • Technology • Engineering • Art • Mathematics.) In total, the program featured more than 25 free activities and presentations. Favorites included book binding, wool spinning, kite making and cricut crafting.

Thanks to a robust publicity campaign and strong relationship with the area school, which adjoins the Meinders Library, more than 100 attendees of all ages participated in the day-long extravaganza. That healthy turnout approached the Library’s all-time event record – not bad, especially for a library with a programming budget of zero dollars in 2017.

However, as the saying goes, nothing comes from nothing. The Friends donated 100+ volunteer hours to the planning and execution of Full STEAM Ahead. Other community volunteers contributed another 20+. Local businesses provided a complimentary lunch and refreshments for all guests.  

Full STEAM Ahead proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Pipestone area was ready for a permanent makerspace. After the program’s resounding success, the Library applied for a $25,000 grant through the competitive State Farm Neighborhood Assist® program. The Friends’ resounding success with the Full STEAM Ahead pilot set it apart from other applicants. Out of nearly 2,000 submissions, Pipestone was selected as one of only 40 to get the full $25,000 amount.

This is a huge boon for the community, and in particular for Pipestone Area Public Schools. “Because the Library is attached, students are able to use the new [makerspace] for school projects,” said director Jody Wacker. “It’s doing much to equalize economic disparity.”

While board games are a popular pastime, they suffer from a drawback: the gameplay experience is a decidedly two-dimensional one. The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library turned that on its head last year with a wildly popular CLUE murder mystery event.

Hosted at the Brainerd Public Library (where else?), this first-of-its-kind role playing event brought to life the popular Hasbro game and its stately mansion setting.


The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library are no strangers to experimental programming. In 2014, they won the Evy Nordley Award for “Wine & Words,” an author gala fundraiser. Last year, they were runners-up with “Books, Burgers & Brews,” a truly unique literary dining experience held in Crow Wing County restaurants and pubs.

However, while these previous initiatives targeted the public at large, invitations to the CLUE Event were restricted to just one special audience: members of area book clubs.

“You may think that creating an exclusive event for book clubs is preaching to the choir, but that is not true,” explained Friends president Sheila DeChantal.”Many book clubs do not utilize their local library – and more so, they do not know the resources that today’s libraries provide.”

In the run-up to the big day, each area book club received a “summons” (delivered in ornate envelopes appropriately marked Confidential). More than 100 book club members answered that call.

Many dressed in period costumes, complementing the Victorian veneer given to Brainerd Public Library for the day. “A local photographer loaned us backdrops, including bookshelves and a study, which really completed the setting,” DeChantal recalled.

The Friends organizers tasked guests with solving a murder by visiting sixteen themed areas within the Library. Just like in the board game CLUE, players used process of elimination to zero in on a murder weapon, the scene of the crime – and its perpetrator.

Going the extra mile, the Friends also secured an event liquor license from the City and offered a free beer tasting. Hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and coffee were also donated by area businesses. Each attendee left with a Friends of the Library swag bag containing promo materials about the group and the Library, chocolates, and coupons for local breweries and coffeehouses.

Impressively, thanks to in-kind donations, the Friends were able to put on the CLUE Event with only $200 of their own money.

Buffalo Public Library enjoys an enviable piece of grassy shoreline along Buffalo Lake. Until quite recently, however, this sliver of prime real estate was an underused and unprepossessing spot. Limited, cramped seating was one reason. Overgrown landscaping – which harbored bugs but blocked the water view – was another. Dull paving stones and drab patio colors certainly didn’t help, either. 

DSC_0311.JPGLast year, The Friends of the Buffalo Public Library financed and coordinated a three-phase construction campaign to revamp and expand this waterfront courtyard.

Funding came from several sources. Semi-annual book sale revenue, collected over two years, provided the lion’s share. Profits from “pop-up” book sales set up at farmer’s markets and garage sales helped as well. Last, private donations to The Friends solicited and earmarked for the project put the reconstruction above its budget target.

In addition to the required fundraising, The Friends also took on the logistical and administrative challenges associated with this property upgrade. They sought bids and retained the services of a landscaping firm, partnering with city government on the approval of a design and repairs to an existing retaining wall, and consulted with the Wright County Horticultural Society about how best to handle perennial plantings.

Phase 1 of the three-stage process supplemented the existing patio with a second one, plus provided a new hedge to shield the outdoor reading area from the parking lot. Phase 2 overhauled the existing patio with new, permanent seating and connected the two with a winding paver path. Phase 3 included various beautification and shade-giving measures.

Work was paced in this way to allow construction to begin even before fundraising efforts hit the final budget target.

Ultimately, “seating space was more than doubled,” noted board member Kay Stait. “Smaller groups or individuals can now feel comfortable sitting in twice the space, versus just a small circular ring with all the seating facing each other.” The renovations also showcase the beautiful, curated perennials that existed behind the Library previously but could not conveniently be viewed and appreciated.

“We feel that we have succeeded in turning this portion of the library property into an outdoor space that will entice patrons and offer a place for reading and respite,” she concluded.

2017 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

The historic Marine Village Hall in Marine on St. Croix is Minnesota's oldest public facility of its kind still used for governmental purposes. However, on October 15, 2016, the 130-year-old building hosted something entirely new.

DSC_0245.JPGThe Friends of the Marine Library (aka Marine Library Association) hosted "Once Upon A River" at the historic venue. Marine Library Association marketed this unique performance as a blend of photography exhibits, live music, and more celebrating the beautiful St. Croix River and environ.

More than 150 ticket holders turned out for this fundraiser. Headliners included artist Marty Harding and nature photographer Gary Noren, who shared the distinction of being selected as ‘Pine Needles Artists in Residence’ for the St. Croix Watershed Research Station – a big honor, for those in the know.

Other highlights included the 30-member River Chorale, jazz and ragtime clarinetist Butch Thompson, and renowned pianist and accordionist Dan Chouinard.

Given the environmental theming, the Friends were able to convince the St. Croix River Association, St. Croix Watershed Research Station (Science Museum of Minnesota), and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (National Park Service) to partner on the funding, design, and promotion of this first-of-its kind endeavor.

Moreover, the Marine Library Association’s dedicated promotions team went all out, designing a well-circulated poster and securing plugs in area newspapers and other media.

"Once Upon A River" packed the house and then some. Some hopefuls who had not purchased their ticket in advance could not get into the Village Hall, noted organizer Loralee DiLorenzo. (This is, as they say, a good problem to have.) Fortunately, some of the exhibits on display at OUAR are slated to enjoy a long second life in other Washington County venues. This includes the popular artwork of Harding and Noren.

At the end of the night, the Marine Library Association had netted $7,735. Success is attributable not just to ticket sales and sponsorship support, but to the Friends’ stellar job securing in-kind donations for the program. This included over $3,500 in comped audio visual support from a local vendor, among other services.

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, the Friends of the Austin Public Library set up fifty blind dates. But, this feat of matchmaking took a different form from what you probably have in mind!

MN_Faribault.pngFebruary fundraiser “Blind Date With A Book” generated several hundred dollars for the Friends, and invaluable exposure with new audiences in Austin.The idea stemmed from a board of directors brainstorming sessions last fall. The Friends wanted a fresh idea with modest costs attached – a tall order, as any fundraising volunteer can attest!

Capitalizing on an inventory of like-new books they had on hand from a recent book sale, they decided to put a Valentine’s twist on the traditional Friends book sale model. They wrapped hundreds of books, representing a wide range of genres, in plain paper, which they then tapped into their artistic talents to ornament. They priced these anonymous “book dates” at $5.00 for a hardcover, or $5.00 for two paperbacks.

As an added incentive for picky and curious readers alike, the organizers decided to include keywords and other clues on each.

In addition to the library, the Friends partnered with a local coffeehouse to set up a table in a highly trafficked corner of downtown. “We decided we needed to move outside of the library to draw more attention to our group,” explained member Sue Grove. On sale days, Friends volunteered to “staff” the table at the coffee shop and handle transactions.

Friends of the Austin Public Library received significant local publicity, including a front-page story in the newspaper and a feature on a popular radio talk show.

All told, the Friends sold 50 wrapped books; with additional donations, they netted $393.00 over the course of the event (more than 50 percent above their target)!

“’Blind Date’ is such a fun project to put on, and it can be easily replicated by any Friends group!” explained Grove.

Given their initial success and the relative ease of scaling up the program, organizers are already committed to holding a sequel “Blind Date With A Book” in 2018. Next time around, they are going to expand their offerings to include children’s and young adult titles, and thereby make it an all-ages event. 

On March 20, 2017, literati in Brainerd dined on the “Mae Holland-aise Burger”: a truly unique entrée composed of bacon, cheddar, hollandaise drizzle, and a heaping side of literary inside jokes. Mae Holland is the plucky protagonist in The Circle by Dave Eggers.


It is only one of many one-of-kind dishes prepared in recent months for the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library and their guests as part of “Books, Burgers and Brews.” The Friends inaugurated this innovative program in October 2016, in hopes of spreading the group’s fundraising and messaging to an inviting locale outside the library.

Books, Burgers and Brews is held at Prairie Bay, a popular farm-to-table eatery not far from downtown. Each month, the restaurant's book-loving head chef crafts a menu themed to that month's Friends book club selection.

"Working together with the Library, we chose titles that we felt would be appealing to both men and women," explained organizer Sheila DeChantal. The first selection was sci fi favorite The Martian, by Andy Weir. That dinner drew about 35 attendees – and an encouraging high proportion of men.

“We were looking to have that elusive mix of men and women,” DeChantal said. “We were also targeting non-readers and 'dormant' readers.”

Attendance now tops 40 during any given month. Recent installments have included the non-fiction hit Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly), which centers around African American women at NASA in the 1960s and inspired the spicy pepper “Blast Off Burger,” and The Nest (Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney), namesake of the fried onion Nest Egg Burger.

Each month's dinner is accompanied by a short program, including a slideshow presentation and live author Skype discussions when possible.

The Friends had initially planned to take a hiatus during the summer months, and pick back up in the fall. However, due to program growth and pending promotional opportunities, Books, Burgers and Brews is now held year-round. Moreover, the owners of Prairie Bay are actively exploring the possibility of bringing this novel book club idea to two other venues they own in the Brainerd area.

In addition to greater awareness about the Brainerd Public Library and its Friends, the series has yielded other dividends, as well. The Friends purchase 20 copies of each highlighted title for the Library’s collection, and have leveraged “BBB” as a way to stoke interest in Brainerd's book-club-in-a-bag offerings.

2016 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Last fall, for one night only, the Pipestone Area Friends of the Library (PAFL) transformed the local Meinders Community Library into southwest Minnesota’s most innovative museum.

Pipestone’s library is a relative rarity in today’s landscape, notes director Jody Wacker. It is a combined school and public library facility; it serves the Pipestone Area Schools, as well as the 4,000-person community at large. “We are therefore in a unique position to create ties inter-generationally, and across the cultural and socio-economic divides common in our town,” Wacker explained.

PAFL did just that on November 20 with its inaugural “Night at the Museum” – the largest ever library event hosted in Pipestone.

pipeston.gifInspired loosely by the popular movie of the same name, the event’s dovetailing goals were to give students an opportunity to showcase their artwork, bridge generation gaps, and get people into the library. “Students have few people with whom to share their art and academic success with, as school projects that take time and effort are then typically crammed into backpacks and are often seen only by teachers and parents,” Wacker explained.

Planning and promotion began in September. All told, 216 area students (3rd-12th grades) contributed a total of 91 exhibits to Night at the Museum. These varied widely, from canvas art and educational displays, to short feature films and podcasts – and even a cheesecake-making demonstration and a scone taste-testing!

A turnout of over 160 attendees beat expectations – despite the night coinciding with the year’s first big snowfall. After the main event, 50 students and adults stuck around to watch “Night at the Museum.”

For a program with so many moving pieces, PAFL’s event could not have been more cost effective. The Friends provided about $35 towards refreshments, but most other costs were picked up by local media and patron donors. Naturally, the students did most of the set-up and tear-down work.

Building on this first year’s success, Jody Wacker feels that as little as $500 for paid promotions would go a long way towards making any “sequels” even bigger community affairs.

By all accounts, Night at the Museum is an achievement worth repeating. “We successfully brought together two demographics within our community that typically have little interaction and great misconceptions of each other: our youth and our elderly,” Wacker said. “All night – and for months afterward – we heard how much people enjoyed spending time with the youth and seeing them in a whole new light. The impact was significant enough that the library continues to highlight student projects.”

In 2015-2016, the City of Northfield – together with numerous community partners and donors – financed a $3.4 million renovation to the Northfield Public Library. Private support accounted for an impressive 45 percent of that price tag.

MN_Rice.pngThe Friends and Foundation of the Northfield Public Library played an integral role in seeing this public-private partnership through to its conclusion. Not content to rest on their laurels, however, the Friends remain hard at work promoting the newly expanded facility and all that it has to offer.

Two recent, overlapping book bag promotions are emblematic of the Friends’ tireless community outreach efforts.

Northfield Public Library owns several pieces of artwork by local artEvyists, including the iconic Jubilante by St. Olaf professor emeritus John Maakestad. Library staff rolled out a “brand refresh” to coincide with their facility’s grand reopening, and used Jubilante as something of a centerpiece: on library cards, a new website, and more.

With the permission of the Maakestad family, the Friends used the masterwork as the design for a new line of totes, as well. They sold these, at the reopening celebration and afterwards, for $15 each (in order to keep the tote affordable to all) – but encouraged a $5 “extra” donation.

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Northfield Library targeted their second book bag initiative at an underserved population: residents who speak English only as a second language. After applying for and receiving a $1500 grant from Women in Northfield Giving Support (“WINGS”), the Friends assembled more than 100 blue-and-white bags stuffed to the brim with outreach resources. Goodies included Spanish-to-English flash cards, spelling and math activity books, pamphlets about the library, and bus vouchers. (Northfield Public Library is located close to a major bus line. Organizers included complimentary bus tokens to invite visits from community members who do not have other easy transportation options.)

Careful grant fund management allowed the Friends to assemble 150 full totes (versus the 100 originally projected). They targeted recipient families with able assistance from area schools and the local Community Action Center.

As the Friends noted in their recent Evy Nordley application, they had hoped that this outreach push would “incentivize visits from families who do not regularly use the library’s programs, services, and resources.” Happily, multiple tote recipients were in evidence among the 2,200-strong crowd at the library’s rededication ceremony – indicating that they are having the desired impact.

Jubilante also made its mark. The Friends sold out of their initial order relatively quickly, and just as quickly reordered more. They intend to market the colorful, waterproof tote heavily as part of future holiday fundraisers.

Friends in small and rural areas are often tempted to use the modest size of their library, community, or member roster as excuses not to “think big.” Friends of the Elmore Public Library are proof positive that, with pluck and ingenuity, small Friends organizations can accomplish truly great things.


Located an hour south of Mankato along the Iowa state line, Elmore is a farm town of only 600. Unsurprisingly, as of last year, membership in the local Friends was among the lowest of any organization in southern Minnesota.

Consequently, many in the community voiced doubts when the Friends announced their intention to organize a large book basket silent auction as part of Elmore’s summer Horse and Buggy Days weekend celebration.

“Someone on our Board of Directors had seen another library do this sort of fundraiser, where they created baskets themed around a book title,” explained secretary Kristin Travis. “We decided to expand on that idea, by reaching out to the business community and asking them to donate either baskets or money for a silent auction.”

While the partnership opportunity sounds straightforward enough on paper, it is a tall order for Elmore – a town with no grocery store, no bank branch, and little commercial activity to speak of. At present, Elmore sustains only six active businesses.

Hoping to cast a wider net, “our Board brainstormed what businesses in nearby towns and cities benefit from the residents of Elmore shopping or patronizing them – or anyplace connected because owners or employees are alumni,” Travis recalled. (Elmore High School ceased graduating seniors in 1994, but Faribault County is full of town alumni working in various leadership positions.)

In total, the Friends compiled a list of 88 recipients for a letter requesting basket donations for the library’s silent auction. Impressively, 53 of those contacted wished to take part!

Kristin Travis attributes this response in part to flexible participation options. Donors did not have to devote time and effort to a themed basket if they did not want to. A cash donation option eliminated that barrier. In those cases, the Friends assembled an appropriate basket.

All these efforts reaped a range of dividends. Exposure helped the Friends boost their profile and nearly double the size of their Board (from 5 to 9). Every auction item sold during Horse and Buggy Days weekend, allowing the Friends to buy a computer and needed software for the library. Moreover, “Basket Book-nanza” raised so much that the Friends had enough left over to buy the facility a new Cricut machine and about $200 worth in DVDs.

This last acquisition brought with it an encouraging ripple effect. Elmore Public Library recently weeded its outdated VHS collection but had little to offer by way of new and in-demand DVD titles. This post-auction donation helped change that situation. DVDs now in rotation account for nearly 50 percent of the library’s entire circulation. “It has also fueled an interest in community members willing to donate movies,” noted Travis. (Approximately 1,300 are now available, up from just 100 last July.)

Friends of the Elmore Public Library is eager to try their hand at this fundraiser again – but next go around, they aim to reach out to an expanded contact list of nearly 150 businesses.

2015 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Austin, Minnesota – like hundreds of communities its size across the country – lost its last independent bookstore several years ago. Area booklovers feel that loss acutely, particularly during the holiday season. In 2014, the Friends of the Austin Public Library stepped in to fill this void in a new and innovative way. 


The Friends began by tapping an invaluable relationship. “Earlier in 2014, we had struck up a partnership with staff at the Barnes & Noble store in nearby Rochester,” explained president Sue Grove. “This allows us to provide new books for sale at author presentations in our library, as well as at the annual Austin Artworks Festival.” 

After these initial forays into new book sales proved successful, the Friends sat down with the Barnes & Noble community outreach liaison to plan something much more ambitious. “While brainstorming new ways to leverage this connection, board members came up with the idea of hosting a special holiday book sale at the library.”

They reasoned that such a program would allow residents to, once again, buy new books in Austin – while simultaneously drawing people into the library and boosting the public profile of the Friends. “Our board has sponsored two successful used book sales every year for many years, so this really seemed like a natural extension,” Grove said.

Barnes & Noble welcomed the opportunity to expand their reach in this market, knowing that not all readers in Austin are willing to make the 40-minute trek out to their Rochester store. 

“We hoped to appeal to all ages, and so enlisted the help of people from various backgrounds and with varied interests to select book titles,” Grove explained. For instance, a retired kindergarten teacher picked out an assortment of in-demand children’s books. In total, the Friends spent a full five hours in Barnes & Noble pulling together merchandise retailing at about $7,000 for resale. “We bought so much that the 20 percent discount promised was increased to a 25 percent discount!” 

A strong promotions blitz augured well for the three-day event. In addition to distributing flyers and posters, the Friends made appearances on local television and radio stations. The Austin Daily Herald gave the book sale front-page billing on two separate occasions, and Barnes & Noble coordinated web publicity. 

“The event succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” Grove explained. “Everyone was so excited about the first ever event of this kind… The room was packed throughout the sale. On the first day, people were even lining up 45 minutes before we opened!” Inventory sold so quickly that Barnes & Noble reps trucked additional books in from Rochester on the second and third days. 

At the end of the event, the Friends let Austin’s collection development librarians select books they wanted for circulation. Barnes & Noble accepted back whatever remained, meaning that the Friends lost no money on unsold items. 

While fundraising was a secondary objective, the Friends of the Austin Public Library raised over $1,250 through the holiday book sale. They intend to make it an annual tradition – albeit next year, in a much larger room!

F. Scott Fitzgerald died 75 years ago, but the literary luminary and St. Paul native would have felt right at home last February at the Friends of the Ramsey Co. Libraries’ signature fundraising event: the Great Gatsby Gala. For the second time in as many years, over 200 flappers and fellas converged on the Roseville Public Library for this memorable night.

The Friends set an ambitious goal of $30,000 (up an even $10,000 from 2014). They came in almost exactly on target, thanks to diverse revenue streams built into their gala model. Moderately priced tickets and generous sponsorships from local organizations accounted for much of it, but other fundraiser activities were unique to the gala and its theme.

For instance, notes long-time Friend and volunteer Sue Gehrz, sales of 1920s-style hats and headbands alone contributed over $500 in revenue. Volunteers painstakingly crafted the headbands by hand and sold them both before and during the gala.

The literary theme also seeped into the fundraiser’s silent and live auction components, in the form of books and period pieces. In total, over 80 items and bundles were donated to the auction, in categories ranging from dining and sightseeing experiences, to original artwork, to sports memorabilia.

While the live auction was the highlight for some, dining, dancing and photoshoots anchored the night for others. Still others appreciated the chance to meet their local librarians, and to go on a guided tour of the Roseville Public Library.

The Friends of the Ramsey County Library were thrilled to see that this combination of activities and attractions – fine-tuned after the inaugural gala in 2014 – drew a mix of people of all ages. The gala also proved a regional happening. “Many attendees traveled not just from outside Ramsey County, but from outside the Twin Cities to be a part of it,” Gehrz said.

The $30,000 raised by the Friends will allow the Ramsey Co. Library to purchase 1,500 new items for collections in Maplewood, Mounds View, New Brighton, North St. Paul, Roseville, Shoreview, and White Bear Lake. 

When people design or discuss public awareness campaigns, they usually have an adult audience in mind. While the same usually holds true for public libraries, the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library recently designed a unique public awareness campaign aimed instead at their library’s youngest patrons. After some discussion, the Friends landed on the perfect vehicle to share the library’s value proposition with Brainerd area kids. They decided to coordinate a special children’s book sale bash, drawing on their experience hosting used book sales for general audiences.

They entered the planning stage with two goals in mind: to get a wide assortment of age-appropriate materials in front of children, and to price everything at 25 cents. “All books were sold at a quarter a piece so that all children could leave happy, with books in hand,” explained Friends president Gail Brecht.

Securing children’s materials in the necessary quantities required broad-based community support. The Friends board of directors sent letters to local teachers requesting book donations, and they in turn sent the call out to parents throughout Crow Wing County.

In order to create a festive atmosphere and stoke strong attendance, the Friends invested in snacks and face paints. A local costume shop also loaned the Friends princess and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes at a steep discount.

Friends report that the sale remained incredibly busy throughout its run, with children and parents alike expressed great appreciation for a children’s sale separate from Brainerd’s customary spring and fall sales. As one impressive indicator of traffic, during the sale, over 500 kids signed up for the library’s summer reading program.

Moreover, all told, the Friends raised about $1,000. As Gail Brecht points out, “that’s a lot of quarters!” 

2014 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

Author readings, wine tastings, and silent auctions are all common enough on their own, but it takes a hefty dose of creativity and planning to roll all three activities into one fundraiser. In August 2013, The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library did just this, with their inaugural “Wine and Words” program.


Held at the beautiful Arrowhead Resort Hotel & Conference Center in Alexandria, Wine and Words featured not one, not two, but five accomplished writers: Sandra Brannan, Lorna Landvik, Sarah Pekkanen, William Kent Kreuger, and Wendy Webb.

Authors and guests alike enjoyed an impressive spread, with sumptuous dishes like champagne chicken and wild rice pilaf scoring high marks. Delicious as the meal was, the real highlight for the palate was the wine tasting. Beverages were donated by a local liquor store.

Indeed, The Friends of the Brainerd Public Library’s ability to find a number of generous partners (particularly ‘in-kind’ sponsors) proved crucial to their success. Arrowhead took care of author accommodations, and an area printer provided brochure and ticket printing free of charge. Local bookseller Book World facilitated on-site book sales for author signings. A number of businesses donated valuable items to the silent auction.

Moreover, Wine and Words enjoyed a veritable blitz of promotions – at least when compared with what’s typical for Friends programs in a community the size of Brainerd. In addition to a strong social media presence, a new website, and favorable coverage in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch, that included comped radio spots. 

All this paid off. President Sheila DeChantal set what she thought was an ambitious goal of 100 attendees. “The results were well beyond our expectations,” she said. “We had 180 people purchase tickets!” Wine and Words cleared over $8,500 for the library’s use, and also served as an effective recruitment drive. “By having Friends applications at each place setting, we also increased our membership that evening by 24 members,” DeChantal reported.

Needless to say, Wine and Words will be a staple on Brainerd’s community calendar from here on out!

The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” has one more – and a decidedly unique one, at that! – thanks to the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library (JFHML) Friends Foundation.

cattail.jpgThe Foundation services the small town of Crosby, Minn., and surrounding Cuyuna Lakes communities in Crow Wing County. Among other ongoing initiatives, Foundation members are particularly proud of the financial support they are able to provide the Hallett Memorial Library for children’s activities. In 2013 alone, the library hosted over 40 “Preschool Story Hours,” with total attendance topping 1,800. Without $1,000 from the Friends each year, this successful program could not continue.

Recently, the Foundation seized on an opportunity to take this one step further. Inspired by various indoor play place prototypes they saw on display at the 2013 Minnesota Library Association (MLA) Conference in St. Cloud, and at the behest of staff, they decided to overhaul the library’s kids area.

Crosby’s new-and-improved kids area is replete with the most modern of amenities, including two LeapPads and two iPads, but what children enjoy most is the overall atmosphere. As the Cuyuna Lakes area is defined by its many picturesque lakes, Friends thought it fitting to give the redesigned space an aquatic theme. Prominent is a replica boat for children to play in, together with a “pond” rug and both wall manipulatives and room decorations in keeping with that outdoors feel. Other props include model fishing poles and life vests.

The Friends didn’t make all the decisions on their own, though. When it came to naming the rechristened space, they invited the public to put forward suggestions and vote on their favorite. Contenders included “Hickory Dickory Dockside,” “Kids Kabin,” “Little Lakeside Lounge,” and “Read-A-Book Beach.” Most popular of all was “Cattale Corner” (a literary pun on ‘cattail,’ a wetland plant found in abundance around the Cuyuna Lakes).

Voters hailed from all age brackets – a fact that proved prophetic. Cattle Corner is unexpectedly popular with adults, who appreciate the new outlet for their children’s energies (while they utilize the space’s fast and free Wi-Fi).

On February 1, after months of intense planning, the Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries pulled off a great fundraiser. A Gatsby-great fundraiser, to be more precise. Organizers tore a page straight from the Great American Novel and hosted a “Great Gatsby Gala” at the Roseville Library.

(As many Minnesota bibliophiles know, author F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul – less than ten miles from the Roseville Library venue.)

83B_flapper_1.gifThe evening, emceed by Minnesota Public Radio personality Kerri Miller, contained several elements common to Friends fundraisers. Silent and live auctions boasted over seventy donated items ranging from one-of-a-kind specialty items, to gift baskets, to fun dining, theater, and sightseeing experiences.

The rest of the night was, as the name promised, a real blast from the past. Highlights included Roaring Twenties style dance lessons, a costume contest recognizing most authentic period dress, and a photo booth with Gastby-era props.

Having never done anything of this sort, the Friends paid special attention to advance publicity. A press release and event updates were sent to local media outlets, and the Friends, in partnership with the Ramsey Co. Library, sent out a large mailing of their own. Social media and tried-and-true word of mouth also played a role.

Commensurate with the party’s Roaring Twenties theme, planners set an ambitious fundraising goal of $20,000. By the end of the night, Ramsey County had met and surpassed that mark, with the live auction alone bringing in upwards of $8,000. After all was said and done, the Gala grossed $47,000 and netted nearly $35,000. This allowed the Friends to purchase more than 1,000 new items for circulation at library branches in Maplewood, Mounds View, New Brighton, Roseville, Shoreview, and White Bear Lake.

Attendance figures were equally impressive, with 250 “flappers” and “fellas” turning out at the Gala. Revelers included the Mayor of Roseville, all four Ramsey County Commissioners, and numerous business and community leaders. (Missed the big event? Don’t worry! The Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries is already hard at work planning a second annual gala for spring 2015.)

2013 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

The Cambridge Public Library is part of the 6-county, 14-branch East Central Regional Library (ECRL) system. ECRL is governed by a Joint Powers Agreement specifying that each member county must provide its full share of the annual ‘umbrella’ operating budget – or else face cuts the next fiscal year.

In 2011, Isanti County’s Commissioners opted to cut their share of the ECRL budget by $34,000. As a consequence, Cambridge (the county’s only public library) saw a reduction from 57 to 43 weekly operating hours. More troubling still, the decision also necessitated cutting six part-time library staff positions and closing the facility entirely on Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The Friends of the Cambridge Library quickly but judiciously determined that they could provide assistance on two fronts: helping close the 2012 budget gap, in the short term; and convincing the County to revert to the previous funding level, in the longer term.


They tackled the first goal with gusto. Fundraising efforts ranged widely. Tactics included a letter campaign, petitions in the media, and donation jars in prominent places within the library. In total, they raised well over $5,000, enough to restore the summer hours – with some left over to put towards badly needed new furniture, to boot!

Almost immediately after the budget reduction announcement, Friends treasurer Karen Lee and others began making it a point to attend the County’s open meetings with regularity. This ensured that library funding remained top-of-mind for the County Commissioners.

Simultaneously, in hopes of securing a more viable budget for 2013, the Friends began making their case to government officials.

They also spearheaded a grassroots public relation campaign, of sorts, to get the larger community (by and large fans of the library, even if not formally ‘Friends’) to voice their displeasure with the new status quo. Prominent among other efforts, they produced an informational flyer and mailed it to over 250 area households and businesses. In it, they made clear what the expenditures reduction meant for the library. The Friends encouraged recipients to forward on the information widely – and the community’s response surpassed nearly all expectations.

Finally, at its September 5, 2012, meeting, the Isanti County Commissioners voted to fully fund the county’s share of the 2013 budget. One Commissioner stated: “I’ve never had more of a reaction from the public than I have on this.” Effective January 2013, the Cambridge Public Library is back to full staffing and operational hours.

MALF’s Evy Nordley judging committee singled out the Cambridge Friends for their multifaceted, two-stage approach to an exceedingly complex issue. As an award nominee, its merits are almost too numerous to list. Foremost, at in the eyes of the judges, is the fact that it is replicable – a fundamental Evy Nordley criterion. We sincerely hope library systems elsewhere in Minnesota never face a budgetary crisis like this one. If you do, though, there’s hope… and your “Friends” in Cambridge have some great advice for you.

Next to the traditional used book sale, an author event may be Friends of the Library’s favorite fundraising technique. Precious few, however, can do so as cost effectively as the Friends of Duluth Public Library – let alone bring in a New York Times bestselling author to headline.

Duluth_Laura_Bergen.jpgIt began when President Linda Hanson and her colleagues began looking for a way to put on a public event well suited not only to raise funds for the library, but to increase public awareness of the Friends at the same time. The idea for an author series of some sort quickly gained traction.

The Friends found an impressive partner for their debut event: William Kent Krueger, the award-winning author behind the popular Cork O’Connor series (set in Minnesota). Krueger agreed not only to speak in Duluth, but to use the Friends event as the platform to debut his newest novel, Trickster’s Point, for the very first time in northern Minnesota.

Tickets were pre-sold for $20. The Friends hoped to sell an even 150 tickets, but ultimately sold 186!

More impressive still, the Friends worked tirelessly throughout the summer (up to and including the September 17 event date) to see that the show was 100 percent funded through local sponsorships and sales. With ticket sales, net proceeds surpassed the $5,000 mark.

Everyone reported having a good time (William Kent Krueger included). One lucky attendee, whose name Mr. Krueger drew from a hat, even came away with a promise that he would be featured as a minor character in the next Cork O’Connor story.

Meanwhile, thirty miles up the road, the Friends of the Two Harbor Library tackled their own ambitious inaugural public event.

Two_Harbors_Micky_McGilligan.jpgTwo Harbors is currently in the midst of a costly library remodeling project. The Friends elected to contribute to this fund through a large silent auction. After many hours of phone calls and leg work by Friends volunteers, over 100 community members (private and corporate) either donated items for the auction or contributed money to help offset costs.

Wanting the caliber of their fundraiser to match the scope of the remodeling project, the Friends didn’t stop there. They also coordinated a whole night’s worth of entertainment to go with the auction. Live music, poetry readings, and a dessert bar drew in a crowd from all over Lake County.

The fundraiser, dubbed the "Love Your Library Celebration," also saw monetary success. By the end of the night, $3,000 had been raised. Two Harbors is one step closer to having the library facility the community deserves!

Photo Captions: MALF President Mary Ann Bernat congratulates Karen Lee (for the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library), Micky McGilligan (for the Friends of the Two Harbors Library), and Laura Bergen (for the Friends of the Duluth Public Library).

2012 Evy Nordley Award (Winner & Finalists)

The Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries’ Evy Nordley Award-winning program takes as its inspiration the career philanthropy of turn-of-the-century American entrepreneur and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Between 1883 and 1929, seed money put forward by Carnegie made possible the construction of 1689 libraries throughout the United States. Carnegie is considered by many to be a truly one-of-a-kind library advocate.

Even so, Nancy Guerino, Sue Gehrz, and their colleagues at The Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries had a hunch – supported by secondary research – that that great spirit of generosity survived Carnegie himself and lives on to this day.

It all came down to this: There are many financial channels through which Library Friends can support libraries, but these are not intuitively obvious to most donors. They include straightforward practices, like naming your library of choice as a beneficiary in wills, IRAs and standard CDs, plus complex endeavors – such as creating a trust for legacy funding.

The trick was to make that information known to (and understood by) would-be Carnegies. To this end, the team took a two-pronged approach.

First, they crafted promotional literature explaining and exploring all of the available routes. They supplemented this with convention booth accessories, including an eye-catching collapsible banner.

Next, they targeted an important – but far from obvious – demographic: Minnesota’s community of lawyers. The logic was as simple as it was effective. Better than anyone else, lawyers are in an excellent place to make their clientele aware of library philanthropy options. Guerino, Gehrz and company took their show ‘on the road,’ as it were, and set up their booth in the concourse at popular lawyer conventions.

The program’s success is perhaps best evinced in an anecdote the Ramsey presenters told during the "10 Minutes to Win It" Evy Nordley panel at the MLA conference. At a recent regional convention attended by lawyers, “Nine out of ten lawyers who heard us out said: ‘That’s a great idea! I never thought of that!’” (or some variation thereof) and “promised to mention it to clients.”

Twelve years ago, ten local library and literacy enthusiasts met in the small town of Houston, Minnesota (population 979) to draft a plan for building a public library of the rural community’s very own. As was perhaps to be expected, start-up resources were few and the project was an uphill battle from the start.

But, in February 2002, the Houston Public Library became a reality. Situated in a cramped space and full of hand-me-down equipment, however, it is safe to say that it was far from the community’s ideal public learning space.

As Liz Gibson-Gasset explained to MALF members at the MLA Conference, “We couldn’t let this space define who we were and what we do. This space needed to be what we needed it to be.”

Friends of the Library in Houston spearheaded a multifaceted community initiative to raise funds (plus in-kind donations) towards this worthy goal. Tactics included charity breakfasts, benefit concerts,  direct requests to corporate sponsors, mitten and bake sales, and projects coordinated in conjunction with National Honor Society, the Lions Club, and Houston’s volunteer firefighters.

“Not only did we secure our essentials – like bookshelves and new computers – but we hit our birthday deadline!” Gibson Gasset said. “We even hit some secondary, ‘dream’ targets, such as improving a park adjacent to the library property.”

“Super Kinder: Listos Para el Kinder,” a replicable school readiness program, got its genesis in a troubling Minneapolis metro statistic. According to studies, only 28 percent of native Spanish-speaking school children were scoring well on the Beginning of Kindergarten Assessment (BKA). In practical terms, the stat indicated that this important demographic was starting school without a strong, preexistent grasp on basic concepts (vocabulary, counting, etc.)

The Friends of the Nokomis Library (in the Hennepin County system) crafted a 10-week program called “Super Kinder: Listos Para El Kinder” (i.e., Super Kindergarten!: Ready for Kindergarten) to meet this perceived need.

In broad brushstrokes, the program is a school readiness curriculum for Spanish speakers aged 4-5. It hinges on weekly themed lessons, such as “The Alphabet,” “Weather and Seasons,” “Friends and Relations” – and less concrete subjects, including “I am Special” and “Hopes and Dreams.” Critically, volunteer teachers teach these concepts in Spanish, since studies show that young children retain information better (at least so far as fundamental concepts are concerned) when it is delivered in their native language.

Just as importantly, Super Kinder included a course component that taught parents best practices vis-à-vis their children’s elementary school learning experience.

The program’s initial success is perhaps best indicated by its growth plans. In 2013, Nokomis hopes to expand it with an internship component for older students with a career interest in early child development and literacy.