Library Centennial Sparks Fundraising Campaign

Officials say 100th anniversary celebration has provided the perfect impetus for getting disparate organizations on the same page.

Mill Valley Patch
February 14, 2011

When City Librarian Anji Brenner pitched her plans for the library’s Centennial Celebration to the City Council last October, she compared the 100th anniversary of the library’s opening to a personal birthday.

Those events, she said, provided for reflection on “where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go.”

For the organizations that have made the library’s sustainability a priority over the years, the centennial has provided the perfect opportunity for some reflection on the latter.

“The mission for the library evolves over time,” said Urban Carmel, president of the Mill Valley Library Foundation. “We’re in a period now where people’s needs for what they expect out of the library are evolving. The library needs to be a place where people can meet and experience culture. The Daniel Ellsberg event was a great way to start that effort.”

To that end, the foundation launched its centennial fundraising campaign in October, hoping to raise $250,000 in a year. It has raised $140,000 so far, according to Carmel.

The campaign appears to have had another outcome. The foundation has forged a bond with theFriends of the Mill Valley Library, a group with a similar but not duplicate mission and with a different strategy to attain it.

“We all have been working to develop a greater sense of collaboration,” said Jim Derich, president of Friends of the Mill Valley Library. “The Centennial Celebration really provided a nice focal point for us all to gather together and put our heads together.”

Carmel pointed to the first pair of First Friday events as “a great way to start showing the community what the library can be.” The First Friday events, which to date have featured an appearance by Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, as well as a performance by Liss Fain Dance, are being funded jointly by the foundation and the Friends.

Despite their similar goals, the campaign is the first time in either organization’s history that they have worked closely with one another, Derich said.

The foundation has historically coalesced around larger projects like the centennial campaign and the 1996 library renovation, while the Friends is a membership organization that focuses more on the day-to-day role of the library.

Friends’ members pay $25 annually, raising approximately $23,000 in 2009-2010 for the library, and the group functions as a social organization, dating back to its founding nearly 40 years ago. The Friends generates much of its revenue from its monthly book sale on the third Saturday of each month, along with a big two-day sale in conjunction with the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival. Book sales raised approximately $63,000 in 2009-2010. The group passed on $82,000 to the library in the form of donations to buy books, boost children’s programs, and bolster the library’s art gallery.

The foundation has a much shorter history. Carmel said it has had trouble over the years sustaining momentum after the completion of a large fundraising projects.

“We’re trying to stop that cycle from happening,” he said.

The two groups also operate at different scales. Eighty percent of the contributions to the foundation are $100 or more, going as high as $60,000.

While the foundation and the Friends provide the financial juice needed to keep the library functioning and evolving, the Mill Valley Library Board of Trustees steers the library’s direction.

The centennial campaign gives donors the option of checking a box that directs $25 of the donation to the Friends and making them a member. That strategy has already yielded more than 170 new Friends members, a huge boost given the group’s total membership base of around 750, according to Derich.

Carmel and Derich meet regularly, hoping “to remove any confusion that people may have had in the past,” according to Carmel. “That confusion has been apparent in the past. But in the past year, it’s definitely become a strategic priority for both organizations to be in close contact with one another.”

Both Carmel and Derich hope to maintain that collaboration beyond the 2011 centennial. The library opened in 1911 at 52 Lovell Ave. with the help of a $10,000 Carnegie grant. It moved to its current location on Throckmorton Ave. in 1966 with help from a $325,000 bond passed in 1964. A $4.6 million bond measure passed in 1996 helped build a 9,000-square-foot addition to the library and renovate the existing 18,000-square-foot library.

Carmel sees the library’s next evolution in two primary areas. First, as a cultural and social meeting place, as in the First Friday events, but also technologically by adapting new reading platforms.

“The foundation definitely wants to support initiatives that would allow users to take out devices like the Kindle or an iPad with a book on it,” Carmel said.

Category: Fundraising.