Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Confession Tuesday

In a previous post I wrote about my work with Color Online. In order to build our library collection, I spend a good amount of time acquiring books on book trading sites. I was recently asked by a book trader how I ended up running a library. I thought I repost it here:

If you know anything about non-profits, you know there are never enough volunteers. I approached the agency about creating a lit group for them. Well, if we were going to be reading we needed books and a place to keep them. You can imagine I was thrilled to learn they had a library. Now let me tell you about the library. It was a room not much bigger than a walk-in closet and it looked every bit like the closet you don't want your guests to see. It was just plain pitful. Full of outdated, cast off encyclopedias and throwaways from libraries and private citizens who I'm sure genuienely believed were good books for reading. Now let me ask you, if you don't want old, tattered, outdated books in your house or library why would you think anyone else would? I get that we are a non-profit. I get we work with underpriviledged youth. But our girls aren't junk. They aren't throwaways, and frankly I was offended by what I saw there. Honestly, I can only imagine the impression it made on the girls. Correction, I don't have to imagine, I know. Nobody was using the library. No surprise there.

So, I gutted it. Yep. I tossed a bunch of classic stuff, too (donated actually). Why, because our girls weren't reading it, weren't likely to read it and space was premium. Well, administration was thrilled with me taking on the library 'project' but of course there was no money for us, so being the resourceful, tenacious, bullheaded really, woman I am, I set out to build a collection that reflected the community we serve. In order to fund our library, I collected cans. Yep, cans. Five days a week I collected cans on my job, posted promotional material everywhere and talked to every person I could trap, I mean encourage to hear me. My campaign picked up and soon I had regular customers calling me to pick up their cans. This is how I funded the first one thousand or so books.

I also created a wish list for us at Amazon and promoted our need via e-mail, blog, etc. I also spent my own money (and I have very shallow pockets) so don't be impressed with what I was able to contribute. I solicited and gained supporters who made book donations and donated gift cards and occasionally monies that were given to non-profit and designated for the library or Color Online.

I created a check-out system, catalog system (very informal and limited, but hey you work with what you got). I worked for almost two years as if it were my second job (ask my family who complained but know me well enough to know that I can't help myself. Thank God they love me like they do). I decorated, organized the space, created a soothing, inviting space. Traffic picked up. I hosted contests, activities, workshops and events. Open House and a seven-day Women's History series was our biggest, greatest efforts.

All good things come to an end? Not really, but in the last year a lot changed and I could not live at the agency like I did. I am finally in a position to re-invent us, Color Online and the library. I have one, committed volunteer/peer. We have no funding. We have more than three thousand titles. We have our shelter residents who are psyched about taking on stewardship of the library so we're back in living color!

I am blessed to have this work. It is my passion and my life. I am committed to serving our youth and with me that means I do it using what I know and love. I previously worked in reference publishing. My clients were librarians. Librarians and teachers are my favorite folks. I am a writer and reader. I use what I got. What I know is that our lives matter. My vision is to help my girls find their voice and make themselves heard.


christine said...

Hi, I hope you can find funding for the library – what an amazing project, and how fulfilling for you. I've never written a grant proposal, but I would think a project like this could be funded, don't you? With real money, it could end up being your full-time occupation.

I had to laugh about the tattered books people tried to give away. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode, when Elaine tried to foist off her muffin bottoms on the homeless shelter. The shelter director got really mad, saying why did she think the homeless would want the stumps of the muffin? She had a point!

January said...

Me, too! I really hope you can find funding for the library. if this is your passion, then maybe there is money to pay you--even in a down economy there's money out there.

Thanks for sharing what inspires you.

...deb said...

This work of yours is kick-butt amazing. Thank you for reposting it, for reminding me how flippin' lucky I am with the books I have access to, easily and readily. I am rich in that regards.

susan said...

Thanks Christine, January and Deb,
I'm hoping a staffer will eventually write a grant for us. We manage. Of course, I'd love to be funded and I believe in the future we will be.

If you're like me, it's hard to give up your books, but if you could check our wish list and donate a book, I'd be truly grateful. And don't get me wrong, I love used books, just not funky ones. We accept all donations. If you don't mind, please share about us with friends and family.

Things are picking up with the girls. I'm hoping will get a good rhythm and then I'll get back to some of my own writing. Sigh. There are only so many hours in a day.

Annamari said...

that's amazing...
I applaud your dedication and skills ( a project like this needs amazing skills)
I do not have much I could give – I have three children of my own so children books are kind of damaged by the time the last is done with them. I’ll check my bookcase for doubles…one never knows.

Cynthia said...

I commend you, Susan. Exactly so tired of people "giving" junk to
others as if this is a big deal
or sacrifice. However, you did make
a sacrifice and put your heart and
soul into these young women, and
most of all your respect, which is
one of the hardest commoditities
to find.

Anonymous said...

HI- I'm here from DSnake's blog.
I grew up with library adventures being the highlight of the week. Hurray for you for thinking of this project and pouncing on it with passion. Good luck with funding.
(I think there are places that will help you write grants, using a different example than your actual proposal.) Our arts council recently hosted a free workshop.

Books are, indeed, magic windows to the world.