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How Community Engagement Contributes to an Academic Library’s Development Goals

Dec 01, 2010

Traditionally, extramural funding for a public research library has been applied toward “purchases of opportunity” (purchasing materials that will enhance special collecting areas), new collection endowments or enhanced user services. While specialty materials make the difference between an excellent library collection and an extraordinary collection, collection endowments fund certain areas of interest in perpetuity, and enhanced delivery of services helps provide greater access to materials.

With the continuing economic downturn, which has decreased rates of return on endowment investments and led to significantly less support from state resources, more academic libraries must rely on private funding to purchase core materials needed for teaching undergraduates rather than to make specialty purchases. To create a balance between maintaining core collections, growing specialty collections and ensuring adequate user services, extramural funding has become more critical than ever.

Extramural funding can also provide funding for capital projects, special outreach programs and employee retention efforts, but collections are generally the most important focus.

Reaching out to the community is essential in building a strong base of funding.

Why involve the community in development work?

Reaching out to the community is essential in building a strong base of funding. While people give to institutions they admire and trust, ultimately they give to other people, not institutions. By building programs that engage segments of the community, library administrators can create a venue for sharing their institutions’ needs, and a pipeline for developing relationships with people who care deeply about these needs.

This process is especially important when the economy is in a downturn. And, it is even more critical for public research libraries that, in the past, have relied more heavily on government funding which, in many cases, is diminishing.

How can the community participate?

Friends groups and advisory boards are perhaps the most common vehicle for engaging the community in an academic library’s development efforts. Board members of either type of organization can serve as ambassadors in the community. Both can also generate annual income which can be funneled back into library collections and operations.

While people give to institutions they admire and trust, ultimately they give to other people, not institutions.

The Friends of the UCSD Libraries not only provide annual acquisitions income to the university librarian through their membership program, they also place 50% of their dues into an endowment fund that will provide a stream of collections funding in perpetuity. Over the last 40 years, this endowment’s value has grown to nearly $1 million.

The UCSD University Librarian’s Advisory Board is instrumental in soliciting sponsorships for our annual fundraising event “Dinner in the Library.” The board is also working to raise funds to build an archive of oral histories of founders of San Diego technology companies. This archive will provide primary research materials to scholars seeking to understand the dynamic underpinnings of San Diego’s emergence as the third largest high-tech/biotechnology hub in the nation.

Members of the community can also become involved in a fundraising campaign by proposing a matching gift to an organization. For instance, if a campaign goal is $500,000, a donor may offer $250,000 if members of the community will donate the remaining $250,000. Some foundations will not provide grant funding without the community contributing some percentage of the total campaign dollars. Matches tend to make individuals feel like they’re leveraging their gifts, and are effective in generating additional energy for campaigns.

Does community participation help when it comes to lobbying for the library’s budget?

At UC San Diego, there is a formula the chancellor uses to determine budget allocations that is strictly adhered to. So, it is less common for the community to get involved on this level. However, we have asked community members to participate in a proactive advocacy campaign regarding the UC budget as a whole. This model may be different at other academic research libraries.

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