What kind of group?
Friends/Users of Libraries groups are formed for many reasons. Some start when people join together to fight proposals that affect an existing service. Others start because the library itself seeks to involve the community, as part of its service development.
A protest group may transform into a lasting support group, if its initial campaign is successful. On the other hand, a supportive group may find itself campaigning for the library service if it is threatened.
This basic checklist aims to be useful to all types of groups.
CHECKLIST FOR STARTING A FRIENDS/USERS GROUP
1. Talk about the idea to other people who use the library, your friends and contacts, local community contacts.
Libraries command a lot of goodwill and support in the community, and people are concerned for their libraries. The wider your contacts, the better.
To be effective in lobbying and gaining support, you need to work with other community organisations to ensure that all parts of the community, including minorities, are involved.
2. Form an action group or committee.
To make sure things get done, designate specific people to cover specific tasks on your list (including, of course, collating information and ideas fed in by others).
List the skills and resources people can offer.
3. Check The Library Campaign website to see if there are other Friends/User Groups in your area.
It’s always useful to exchange information and ideas. Consider forming an umbrella body if there are several local groups.
4. Talk to your library staff about the idea.
Partnership with the staff is important to the success of any group. If you are not opposing the council, they can display your publicity material and suggest people who might join you.
If you are forming to oppose council plans, the staff will probably be constrained from expressing opposition in public – so they are likely to welcome local people who can speak for them.
5. Choose a name! You may want to get someone to design a logo.
It’s better to have an obvious name like ‘Friends of X Library’ so that other people (and the press) can find you.
6. Get online.
A Facebook page, and/or a blog (WordPress, Blogger or Wix) are essential so that interested people can find you.
That done, you’ll want a more day-to-day publicity tool to broadcast brief messages.
This keeps you in the news, directs people to your basic page/blog and publicises specific events or campaign activities. Twitter is the classic. Instagram is essentially visual.
All these are free, relatively simple to set up, and even easier to run.
7. Once you have a Facebook page or blog, tell The Library Campaign.
We can then add you to our national list (and please tell us about any other groups you know of that we have not included).
8. Don’t forget that not everyone is online.
You may have to set up a system to keep certain people in the loop, by having a designated person to phone each one, or deliver things.
9. Get physical. Notices, posters and leaflets will reach more people at local level. Printed T-shirts, balloons, mugs etc can give the message a longer life.
Find out who can design and produce material, print things cheaply, distribute them (and where). Compile a list of willing community notice-boards, shops, public spaces, schools, GP surgeries, people with street-facing windows, etc.
10. List the local media and their contact details.
Public libraries are of real interest to local media. They are automatically accepted as a Good Thing. The services they provide are so varied that an angle can be found to attract any publication, from current affairs to local history.
Checklist: Local media could include print (check publication dates and their deadlines), online newspapers, hyper-local and community blogs and newsletters, local radio, phone-in radio programmes, local TV and – if appropriate – council publications and PR department.
11. List useful people and their contact details.
Ask them to visit the library, attend a meeting, suggest other useful contacts or just tweet about you.
All this depends on your immediate purpose, of course. You might want just to get them interested in your library. You might want to influence decisions being made about the library service. You might want to get support for a campaign.
Checklist: People who run local community groups, trade unions, the Mayor, the council’s chief executive, the leader of the council, the cabinet member responsible for libraries, the councillors for the ward where your library is based, opposition councillors, members of the scrutiny committee. The local MP. Celebrities (to attract the press) – anyone with a high profile in your area, anyone famous who lives locally (if there’s nobody else, you are pretty sure to find an author – library staff will probably know).
12. Get people together. You may want to hold a protest meeting. You may just want to have an interesting event to get people to visit the library…
Tip no 1: be sure to have ample opportunities to capture details of people attending who want to offer support. Don’t let them escape! Have multiple sign-up points with paper and pens. Better still, multiple mobile phones or PCs so the information does not have to be transcribed.
Tip no 2: to run an event where you need to restrict numbers, or sell tickets, Eventbrite is easy to use. It is free for free events. There’s a relatively small charge for paid events.
13. Protest meetings or marches. Check you are on the right side of the law.
14. Some more tools for your publicity material.
Canva is a tool for creating professional-looking banners, posters and flyers. It provides a range of template sizes (eg banners for Twitter posts, A4 posters) or the option to create to your own custom sizes, bringing together text, photos and graphics.
Video is becoming increasingly important on the web. Animoto is a tool for stitching your own photos and video clips together.
15. It is probably a good idea to get a constitution as soon as possible. It gets you taken seriously, and makes it very much easier to obtain grants etc. The Library Campaign can send you sample constitutions, used by other groups, to adapt as you wish.