Farewell to Friends of the Library’s individual branches


Photo by Melissa Redlich.

For the past 31 years, Montgomery County Public Libraries has had specific branches undergoing activities specialized in each community. However, on March 19th the committee that oversees these branches, decided to dissolve them.

By Melissa Redlich, Features Editor

On March 19, the Friends of the Library Montgomery County announced that there would no longer be individual chapters of Friends of the Library, effective immediately. 

For the Montgomery County Public Library system (MCPL), there are several “Friends” chapters at individual branches whose mission is to support and enhance the library system. Of the 21 branches of MCPL, 15 of them have Friends chapters. For 31 years, the Potomac Friends of the Library has set up activities, monthly used book sales and created an avid and inviting community for everyone and anyone. 

Edie Wingate, President of the Potomac Friends of the Library, oversees the Potomac Library division and this year was working with a team of 13 volunteers. She first became involved with the library 15 years ago as a volunteer for monthly book sales, however, she was then asked to be on the Board as Membership Chair. After the previous President retired, Wingate decided to run and has served as the President for 10 years.  

“The chapters have heretofore been under the “umbrella” of Friends of the Library Montgomery County (FOLMC)  for tax-exempt purposes, but they are chartered individually with their own bylaws and boards of directors,” Wingate said. “Both FOLMC and the chapters solicit dues-paying members; chapter members are automatically members of FOLMC, but county residents can be members of FOLMC without joining a chapter. For those branches without a Friends chapter, FOLMC provides some supplemental support.”

However, at the March meeting initially called to discuss local book sales to raise funds, with no prior consultation, it was announced that there would no longer be individual Friends chapters at the library branches. This was a bombshell to all chapters. 

Wingate said the Board’s decision was “shocking”, especially since FOLMC was not taking any questions at the time about the matter. One possible reason is that different Friends chapters took different approaches to matters and may not have used their platform as well as MCPL had hoped.

Wingate also works hand in hand with Ralph Buglass, the Potomac Friends of the Library newsletter editor, also a WCHS graduate.

“FOLMC says the change is needed because some chapters were not performing adequately. [However, the Potomac Friends of the Library] feel this essentially punishes well-run chapters because of weak ones,” Buglass said. “We are working with elected officials in hopes of bringing about a reversal or a collaborative solution that will ensure community involvement and input in our libraries can continue.”

With these changes, the Friends of the Library will lose their direct community involvement with volunteers through many programs and activities performed to celebrate and benefit the community.

“The Potomac Friends of the Library has also provided countless “extras,” such as author talks, including many by local writers, children’s programs, many of them by educators, storytellers, performers, and others who actively engage children in learning,” Wingate said. 

Not only has the Potomac Friends of the Library been beneficial in children’s programs and monthly book sales, but they have created partial funding for landscaping and beautification of the grounds by Potomac Village Garden Club volunteers; initiated a relationship with Glenstone Art Museum which resulted in Glenstone’s installation of a native plant garden at the Potomac Library; and given various artbooks for the collection. They have held staff appreciation lunches and funds for ongoing professional development, enlisted storybook characters and children’s activities at the annual Potomac Day, and financially supported the repainting and refurbishing of the library building, including a $40,000 contribution to the upcoming refresh of the Potomac Library. Their efforts to bring the community together have been anything but small.

Seeing as Friends of the Library is so influential in the community, many worry about the effects that dissolving these chapters will have. 

“First, the community will lose direct input into our branch and its services and program offerings; with only one countywide Friends organization there will be significantly less targeted support for the Potomac community’s branch library,” Buglass said. “One central, remote organization lacking community involvement will not provide the same level of support.”

If there is one thing that the community can do it is use their voice! Community members are urged to contact their elected officials and voice their support for keeping Friends organizations at individual library branches. 

 “We believe the Potomac Library will be best served long-term by allowing us to continue serving as ably as our record over the past 31 years has shown,” Wingate said.