Friends of Blackstone Library may disband, impacting programs

Friends of Blackstone Library may disband, impacting programs

Denise Daignault, president of the Friends of the Blackstone Public Library, said the organization is in danger of disbanding if it can’t find new, active members within the next two months. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

BLACKSTONE – Visitors to the Blackstone Public Library may notice changes in the coming months if the Friends of the Blackstone Public Library move forward with a potential plan to disband the organization in 2020.

Last month, Denise Daignault, president of the organization, announced the group was considering dissolving and ending their mission to support the library at the end of February. The reason? A lack of volunteers.

“When the same people are doing the same thing, the burnout is high,” she told The Breeze.

The Friends of the Blackstone Public Library has existed since the 1980s as a sort of booster club for the library. While many patrons take advantage of library programs, including children’s activities, reading programs and special events, few realize that programming is not included in the library’s regular operating budget. Instead, the library fundraises close to $12,000 each year for programming through donations and grants. Some $5,000 of that comes from the Friends organization, supporting more than a quarter of all library programs.

“The Friends have been very steadfast about funding what we need and ask for,” said Lisa Cheever, library director.

When the organization was first founded, Daignault, a retired teacher from the Blackstone-Millville Regional School District, served on the library’s Board of Trustees. At the time, she said, the library offered minimal programming and often had difficulty getting funding from outside sources. When staff decided they wanted to purchase a Xerox machine for use by the public, the Friends organization was created as a way to raise funds for the cost from donations without relying on the budget.

Since then, it’s become an active organization supporting activities year-round. In addition to children’s programs and performances, Friends donations support the summer reading program, prizes and a reception for the winners of the annual poetry contest, a Halloween party and passes for four local museums that patrons can take out for discounts or free admission. Members also advocate for the library at budget time and serve as a conduit for grants or donations that must be awarded through a nonprofit organization.

Though the group has become an important part of the library community, in recent years it’s come to rely on the same four or five members for all of its activities, said Daignault. Their main source of funds is the library book sale that’s always ongoing in the building. Along with two larger book sale events in the fall and spring, the sale brings in more than $2,000 each year for programs. However, the funds come at a cost. Book donations have to be packed, transported, stored, organized and brought back to the library before they can go up for sale, and the work, she said, takes its toll.

“When you’re down to four or five people, all over the age of 50, it’s getting too much,” she said.

In November, the group also announced it was no longer accepting book donations after they lost their previous storage location. Now, residents looking to donate books to the library are turned away, and regular patrons are disappointed to find the book sale shelves empty of new finds.

Though the group has had trouble recruiting new volunteers, a problem Daignault thinks is not unique, the library remains an active center of community life. Last year, 46,554 patrons walked through the doors.

The main problem, she said, is that most of these patrons aren’t aware of what the Friends of the Blackstone Public Library do or how they impact programming.

“I think that is the biggest obstacle to us getting volunteers for the Friends, is that without the Friends, probably a quarter of the programming can’t happen,” she said.

Since making her announcement, she said, she’s received an outpouring of support on social media from friends and supporters hoping to revitalize the organization. In light of the response, the group decided to hold another meeting in January to gauge the level of interest from the public. If they get enough new, active members, she said, they might be able to continue their mission without placing too much burden on the current volunteers.

Anyone interested in joining in is invited to attend the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 6:45 p.m., at the library. Those who can’t attend are invited to contact Daignault at thefotbl@gmail.com.