As coronavirus shutdowns began in March, Michele Lynn went to the Chapel Hill Public Library, and it was packed — people were coming in droves to check out books before the library went on lockdown.
However, the threat that they wouldn't be able to check out books for the next few months never materialized. This is largely due in part to the support of a local nonprofit, which has transitioned into an online bookstore and holds virtual events in order to meet the public's needs while following COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Lynn is a member of and secretary for the Friends of Chapel Hill Public Library, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that has been around since the 1950s. It supports the library and makes sure everyone has access to library resources and to librarians who know them.
“(The library) meets the needs of so many different kinds of families and so many individuals, and I feel like we are very lucky to have it in our community,” Lynn said. “I think it really enhances our community with all the diverse services and programs it offers.”
Prior to the pandemic, the organization hosted three large book sales that were fundraisers for the library. The organization normally raises around $150,000 each year, with 90 to 95 percent of the money going directly to the library.
The group has now transitioned to a fully online bookstore that holds over 2,500 items ranging from books to puzzles. The proceeds go to the Chapel Hill Public Library.
Library Director Susan Brown said the library has raised $16,000 through sales from the online bookstore. This, Friends of Chapel Hill Public Library President Karen Curtin said, is because of Brown herself.
Brown said other Friends organizations around the country have been halted by the pandemic, but the Chapel Hill Friends organization hasn't faced the same struggles.
“Our Friends group in the middle of a time of uncertainty and a pandemic decided to start up a whole new online business venture,” Brown said.
Additionally, Curtin said the Friends have begun to host virtual events for their members. Community members can pay to become a Friend, which comes with perks in addition to supporting the library. Members gain discounts to the bookstore and can attend virtual sip-and-shop events.
In December, the Friends will be hosting The Beautifully Bookish Online Auction.
The auction will take place Dec. 4-11, but will have a preview beginning Nov. 20. It will feature 24 artistic items related to books and reading, ranging from purses made out of popular books to collages from local artists. The proceeds from this event will go to supporting the library's programs.
The library is participating in no-contact park and pick-up service along with offering computers to community members. It has converted its book distribution truck into a mobile library to serve underserved communities with books, Wi-Fi and computers.
Brown said she is thankful for the support and community of the Friends.
“Public Libraries aren’t really about books primarily, we are about people, and it’s the people that make the Friends great,” Brown said.
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