Nonprofit Friends of the Phoenix Public Library (FPPL) was established in 1977, and since then the organization has been fulfilling its mission to promote, enhance and expand the presence of the library for the benefit of the community.
Over the years, the organization has made a noticeable difference in the Valley, encouraging residents to get involved and check out everything the library has to offer while also making sure libraries have adequate resources to meet the needs of the community. The group has been involved in everything from advocating for the library system’s success to raising funds through book sales and other events.
When FPPL first started over four decades ago, the Valley was booming, and members of the Library Advisory Board were concerned that the libraries would struggle to keep up with the blossoming population and growing demand.
In its inaugural year, the organization consisted of a dozen members, mainly volunteers from the libraries who wanted a brighter future for the library system. Harriet McIntosh, a local writer and library patron, led the group, in addition to co-founding Friends organizations in Sedona and Tucson.
The first objective for the newly-formed organization was to sell donated books to raise money, with the goal of supplementing the library’s budget. While the organization has succeeded in raising millions of dollars over the years in support of the library system, fundraising is still a primary goal.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, members of the group, now referred to as “Phoenix Friends,” were busy engaging with concerned citizens who wanted to join the cause. FPPL began pushing Phoenix City Hall for more library money allocated in the budget, and they also took on bigger projects like bonds for the construction of new library branches across the greater Phoenix area.
As the suburbs continued to expand, FPPL had its sights set on continued improvements to the library system. In 1988, the group spread the word about a major “art bond” up for vote, which would define and highlight Phoenix’s culture with a new central library and renovation of the art museum.
The people of Phoenix listened to the group’s rally cry, and the bond was passed. This led to the construction of the Burton Barr Central Library, designed by well-known architect Will Bruder. When the bond funds ran out in 1994, FPPL stepped up to fill the gap, quickly generating more than $1 million in funds to complete the project.
At the time, Burton Barr had the largest reading room of all the public libraries in America, something that the Friends were thrilled to celebrate with the community.
Jason Peterson joined the group in 2001 and has been executive director for 15 years. He says the organization has shifted its focus to advocacy and awareness in recent decades.
“The Friends raised a lot of money to finish Burton Barr, and they decided they needed an organization solely dedicated to raising money. That’s when a separate non-profit, the Phoenix Library Foundation, was created in 1997.”
In addition to helping that branch thrive, the Friends have established chapters at all 17 branches of the Phoenix Public Library. This enables the organization to do more for the community by hosting regular book sales and generating publicity for public libraries.
Even when challenges come up – such as the 2010 City of Phoenix proposal to close six library locations during a tough budget year – the Friends stay true to the mission.
During that time, members of the group invited library patrons to sign “Don’t close my library!” postcards in a campaign targeted toward the Phoenix City Council. Friends directors hand-delivered 20,000 of these postcards to then-Mayor Phil Gordon, and as a result of their efforts not a single library branch was closed.
“We let the mayor and city council know how the public views the library, and that in times of economic hardship people need the library more than ever,” Jason said. “That was one of our biggest advocacy efforts.”
More recently Phoenix Friends have been pushing for libraries to be open every day.
“It’s really important for the community to have libraries open, and we’re trying to make that possible,” Jason said. “The library is a community center. We have millions of books and DVDs, but we also have the hive entrepreneurial center and workforce literacy center. The library is a resource with programs and services, much more so than ever before.”
Friends of the Phoenix Public Library aims to continue safeguarding the public library system and protecting these valuable resources far into the future.
For more: plfriends.org.