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Audit pushes Hillsborough library friends groups to unite

During these tough economic times, there is one place that hasn't experienced a downturn: the public library.

As jobs dwindle, more people are heading to the library to search for work online, to apply for public assistance, and use public computers to create and update resumes, said Andrew Breidenbaugh, chief librarian for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library system.

At the main library downtown, use has increased about 25 percent since September, he said.

"At the moment, there are very few times during the day when the majority of our computers are not being used," Breidenbaugh said.

But the increased activity comes at a time when the nonprofit fundraising arm for the county's local libraries undergoes a major transition.

The Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County Inc. is restructuring the charter board that oversees neighborhood branches, which raise money for author visits and other library programs.

The change comes after a 2007 audit recommended creating a board that better represents the different Friends of the Library chapters, a move that will give the county authority to audit the growing constellation of groups.

Specific amounts that these groups raise couldn't be determined because no central auditing system has been in place, library system director Joe Stines said. "I can't tell you how much (Friends chapters) spend on the libraries," he said. They "collect hundreds of thousands of dollars."

(A separate Public Library Board appointed by county commissioners oversees the system's $53 million taxpayer supported budget.)

County budget cuts caused by the economic downturn are expected to put more pressure on Friends of the Library to support the countywide system and local branches with fundraising and volunteers.

"That's our raison d'etre," said Friends president Bernadette Storck. "We can make cultural aspects of life available in the library that you can't put in the ordinary budget."

The Tampa-Hillsborough library system has 25 branches, including several without a supporting Friends of the Library group.

The new charter board will consist of 20 members: 14 of them representing specific branches and six at-large members for those branches without Friends groups.

Current branch groups — including chapters that recently sprouted at the John F. Germany and Jan K. Platt libraries — will remain active, although less independent than before.

They will pay dues to the charter board for expenses such as bookkeeping.

The charter board is expected to adopt new bylaws in March, paving the way to name the new board members.

A new Friends board could be named in April.

Cathy Teti, interim president of the Friends group at the Platt Library, describes the new board as moving from "a parent-child relationship to more of an affiliation of chapters."

Carol Jones, president of the Bloomingdale Friends of the Library, said branch chapters will have to learn to balance between the needs of the library system and their local community identity.

"I firmly believe this is a change in the right direction," Jones said.

A thorny issue yet to be resolved is how the branch chapters will financially support the charter group.

Jones said her local chapter members "had to be peeled off the ceiling" upon learning they would have to contribute to the charter organization.

Storck said the charter chapter will use $43,000 from a private donation to cover its first year of bookkeeping, insurance and other expenses.

"We are looking at sponsorships and concerts, but there will have to be some dues (from branch chapters)," she said.

Sally Reed, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations, said she has seen similar consolidations in other parts of the country.

"The reality is people who run the book sale want to do it for the library in their neighborhood," Reed said. "It's hard for them to be moved to work as one group. It is kind of a turf issue."

Audit pushes Hillsborough library friends groups to unite 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:30am]
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