One for the Books
Friends of the Library Southport and Oak Island celebrates 30 years of building strong community through a strong public library.
September 27, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of Friends of the Library Southport and Oak Island (FOLSOI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of Margaret and James Harper, Jr. Library in Southport and GV Barbee, Sr. Library on Oak Island. COVID-19 may have delayed the cake and ice cream celebration, but it certainly didn’t dampen FOLSOI’s passion and dedication to the libraries.
Run by a 12-person volunteer board of directors and 93 passionate volunteers, FOLSOI is the only Friends group in Brunswick County that supports two libraries, providing financial support for both libraries beyond North Carolina state funding. This is one very industrious group of volunteers.
“I love the dedication and enthusiasm that board members and volunteers show our libraries,” says FOLSOI board member Julie Paladino, who tracks volunteer hours. “We all want the libraries to improve and are willing to devote many hours to help them do so.”
Diana Fotinatos, past president ex-officio and publicity co-chairperson, adds, “Connecting patrons with services that change their quality of life is my responsibility as a board member. All of us at FOLSOI believe that a strong public library builds a strong community.”
Carol Brolley, current FOLSOI board president, agrees.
“FOLSOI believes that well-funded public libraries are integral to the community,” she says. “We are focused on growing our libraries into gathering spaces with resources for everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens.”
In support of that commitment, FOLSOI raises funds through memberships, donations, book sales and grants. The funds are used to sponsor educational and cultural adult and child programs, purchase and lease new books, procure library supplies and engage in community outreach. This year, adapting programs like Meet the Author and Life Long Learners to COVID-19 guidelines proved surprisingly successful, reaching more patrons than ever before on Zoom.
Partnerships with Kiwanis and St. James Service Club, as well as obtaining a grant from Walmart, enabled a robotics class for middle school students and a hands-on tech workshop for seniors to learn how to connect with family and friends through electronics, just in time for quarantine.
Reecie Tate is Brunswick County library director. She proudly says, “Every year the Friends finance summer reading for our kids. They buy Battle of the Books titles for our students. They fund lots of large print books for seniors. And they make us rejoice with fresh flowers for National Library Week. They’re the greatest!”
Collectively, kids read an impressive 38,000 minutes last summer as part of the summer reading program. The Battle of the Books fund was recently renamed to honor longtime board member Judith Kurzer, who currently serves as library liaison between the board and the library managers.
Nestled in the rear offices of Southport Realty is an extremely well-organized collection of 10,000 donated hardcover and paperback adult and children’s books. Sale of these books, along with CDs and puzzles, on select Saturdays is the main source of revenue for FOLSOI. Board member Kathy Fleming has been responsible for bookstore operations for nine years.
“I enjoy organizing the book sale team schedule, prepping for each sale, sorting the generous book donations and seeing our loyal customers at each sale,” she says.
Book sales have expanded to Southport’s Summer Market and Wooden Boat Show, increasing visibility and enabling FOLSOI to provide more support to the libraries. Since 2005 the bookstore has generated $176,990. At a cost of one dollar or less for most books, that’s a lot of books out the door! No wonder board treasurer Diana Weaver says “crunching the numbers” is her favorite job.
To supplement book sale income, FOLSOI offers memberships ranging from a $10 individual membership to a $250 lifetime membership. When the bookstore was closed due to COVID-19, memberships became a main fundraiser, and the community did not disappoint. Friends memberships increased by 77 percent.
FOLSOI would not exist today without the ingenuity of its founding members. The 30-year history of the organization is documented in stacks of handwritten meeting minutes and one-page newsletters. It’s these prior board members who deserve the credit for development of many of the long-standing programs that today’s board is still proud to sponsor.
Technology has made an obvious impact to FOLSOI over 30 years. Meeting notes are now kept in an electronic file system, email enables communication with 870 subscribers, and active social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter keep everyone instantly informed. The new and improved website released in 2020 has driven website traffic up 233 percent in just one year.
While the changes have been noteworthy, there is still much to be done.
Cindy Phillips, vice president FOLSOI, understands the challenges.
“While the concept of a bricks and mortar library is evolving, the need for a community meeting and program space is still viable,” she says. “FOLSOI is a critical partner to the county to help ensure our libraries stay relevant to community needs.”
Confirmed through recent focus-group conversations with seniors, parents, homeschoolers, school administrators and students, FOLSOI will continue to responsibly spend funds for program development and additions to the collections as well as investigate opportunities for enhanced library services.
Fotinatos concludes, “Libraries have been a great equalizer in today’s society and play in increasingly critical role in leveling the playing field through access to technology and information for everyone. Our volunteers have seen first-hand the impact libraries have made in our community. We celebrate and recognize our volunteers, library managers and community partners.”
Happy 30th Anniversary, Friends of the Library!
Want to celebrate with FOLSOI?
FOLSOI will hold its annual meeting on September 21, 2021, at the Southport Community Center, 223 E. Bay Street, Southport. The meeting is open to Friends old and new. And, yes, there will be cake!
Want to join FOLSOI?
Learn more or join Friends of the Library Southport and Oak Island at folsoi.org or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.