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In the way back yonder year of 2020, the Fairfax County Public Library’s (FCPL) Board of Trustees accomplished something nearly unprecedented. In the County’s advertised budget, which was released in early February 2020, they had advocated and won support for an almost $1 million dollar increase for the library to provide additional weekend service hours and a bump to the materials budget. Then along came March of that year and the start of pandemic. We all remember too well that feeling of uncertainty as layoffs rippled throughout the country and governmental budgets were impacted even as human services needs skyrocketed.  The County quickly released a revised budget which maintained baseline dollars for all departments and agencies. Not a dramatic reduction thankfully, but certainly no more $1 million dollar increase which the Library Board had worked so hard to achieve.

Jump forward to 2023 and a stabilizing economy. The pandemic had shown what a vital resource libraries are to their communities and the need for a strong, vibrant materials collection. The Library Board knew that they would need a plan, a process, and a person to reignite and lead their efforts to regain those proposed dollars from 2020. Board Trustee Fran Millhouser was cycling off her time as Chair and was looking for ways to continue the connections and impact she’d had in that role. She suggested developing a fan club, a way for library supporters to connect with each other and coordinate ways to advocate for their library. The cheerleaders of the book world! The FAN committee (Friends and Advocates Network) was authorized soon thereafter and this small but mighty committee began laying groundwork for their advocates in the winter and spring of that year.

Trustees (L to R): Suzanne Levy, Dr.-Sunjatha Hampton and Fran Millhouser.

The FAN’s goals are simple. Provide a clear, consistent, and concise message for library advocates to use when contacting their representatives during times of critical need. Give space for each member to add their own unique story of how the library positively impacts them to the baseline messaging. And then request that they ask their own networks of friends and family to join in! FAN activates not only during usual times such as the annual budget development, but it also remains agile and prepared to jump in at critical moments such as book or program/event challenges.

The members of the FAN committee are comprised of Library Board members who were asked to simply start by talking to their own networks – their friends, their neighbors, people they met while on vacation (true story: one Trustee signed up an advocate while on vacation abroad!) – really, anyone willing to listen and share their love of the library . The committee met with success in its first year, accomplishing a one-time County allocation of $300,000 for the library’s book budget to help “buy down” some long wait lines, particularly for eBooks.

 The Friends and Advocates Network continues to grow and develop. This year, they have signed up Friends of the Library groups, more individual advocates, and others to ensure that their consistent message has broad reach, and that as many people as possible can share their unique stories of how the library has changed their lives for the better. The FAN group isn’t afraid to leverage the collective power of the people to gain monetary support for their library. More financial support allows more people to educate, recreate, and connect in their local community, which in turn builds up current supporters and creates future advocates who know the power that their local library gives them. Not a bad cycle to invest in!

Jessica Hudson, Director and Sara Prohaska, Marketing & Communications Director, Fairfax County Public Library

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