Booth Library Fundraising Efforts Underway
UPDATE (Tuesday, September 15, 2020): The Friends of Booth Library has reached out to The Newtown Bee to point out that the group promised a donation of $105,000 to the library this year. A review of the recorded conversation and notes from an August 27 interview that provided the basis for the story still left it unclear that the Friends had committed funds from their emergency fund, and made their first payment in July. The library is still counting on support from the community for its annual appeal.
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C.H. Booth Library was temporarily closed to the public for five months due to the pandemic.
The library, according to its 2019-20 Annual Report, adapted quickly to COVID-19. Improvements included services on the patio, a stronger and deeper Wi-Fi signal, virtual programming, and curbside service for patrons. “There was also significant strengthening of safety procedures and staff training,” the report further notes.
The library reopened on a limited basis on September 2. With staff once again welcoming patrons to 25 Main Street, behind-the-scenes efforts to continue covering CHB’s operating budget continue at full steam.
While continuing to offer many services, the institution has suffered financial losses. Major fundraisers were canceled, and smaller events have been indefinitely postponed. The library’s incoming assets are down nearly a quarter of a million dollars for 2020.
Donna Rahtelli, vice president of the library’s board of trustees and its chair of development, said recently she fears many residents do not understand “how much we depend on fundraising to keep the library up and running.”
During an August 27 interview with Library Director Douglas Lord and CHB Board of Trustees President Amy Dent, the library officials talked about the library’s financial challenges, and hopes for the future.
Rahtelli provided additional comments via e-mail after an unplanned event pulled her away from the August meeting.
The pandemic, she pointed out, “has certainly taken its toll on so many, including our beloved library.”
All three pointed to the cancellation of this year’s annual Friends of C.H. Booth Library Book Sale as a large loss for the library’s budget.
“We were not able to have the book sale this year, which generates in the vicinity of $105,000,” Rahtelli said. To make up for some of that loss, the library’s annual appeal by mail has been pushed to an earlier than normal start. An online fundraising effort has also been created, she added.
Dent mentioned that the spring dinner-dance fundraiser alone typically raises $30,000, “so we’re short that funding.”
“As chairs of the development committee,” Rahtelli said, “we are responsible for raising the remaining funds that are needed to operate the library after what is allocated from the town.”
In addition to not hosting its spring Mad Hatter’s Party, she said, “we had planned an indoor scavenger hunt, which of course is rescheduled due to current restrictions.”
“We are not a municipal library,” Dent explained. “We are an association, which means we were founded by special act of the legislature and the town owns the building. Our employees are not town employees — they’re quasi-town employees — and we are responsible for the maintenance of the building, not Public Works.”
The library staff has been working with the first selectman, she said, to “get a better balance on that,” because the building is “older and expensive to maintain.”
The library’s budget, according to Dent, is what the town provides “as a grant,” based on expected costs the library plans to spend on maintenance, personnel, and personnel benefits, among other expenditures.
“The ‘frills’ — which are the meat and potatoes of the library, the books, the digital things that we invest in — including a lot of the things we were calling on during COVID, the Wi-Fi, etc, are largely — but not entirely — funded by the extra money that comes from what the Trustees raise, which is between $120,000 and $125,000,” she added. The Friends of the Library typically raise as much as $125,000, she added.
“So there’s that $230,000-$250,000 that comes from fundraising, half by the Friends, half by the Trustees,” she said. “The rest comes from the town.”
It is also important to note, Dent said, that while similar in name, The Friends of C.H. Booth Library is separate from the library. The 501(c)(3) organization provides financial and material support to the public library, at its discretion.
“They have raised a lot of money with the book sale,” Dent said, “but they determine two things: one, how much money from that book sale they want to give the library; and how we are allowed to spend it.”
The library is additionally supported by two trust funds. Lord said those funds provide between $20,000 and $25,000 annually.
The ongoing Pave the Way Project also provides some income, when it is used. The public is invited to purchase a brick and have it engraved to honor a friend or loved one, honor a special occasion, or share a favorite quote or thought.
The engraved bricks are then installed along the walkway from the rear lot to the library’s southern entrance, and within the patio area, and the tax-deductible $100 received per brick further benefits the library’s coffers.
“The bricks on the patio doesn’t bring a ton of money, but everything counts,” Dent said.
“Like anywhere, it’s a combination of large and small fundraisers that help the library be what it is,” Lord added.
Fundraising will allow the library to increase its Wi-Fi strength, for one thing.
“People were here, crowded on the patio, right after the storm,” Dent said of the August 4 storm that left residents without power, some for a week-plus. The library’s patio was quickly filled by residents who needed the building’s Wi-Fi and charging stations.
“It was amazing how hard working and diligent people are in Newtown,” Lord noted. “We were able to help hundreds of people. We plan to strengthen the signal.
“We already loan devices, hot spots, that increase the digital divide,” he said. “It’s all part of our public service.”
The library is hoping to create office spaces for patrons to use, he said. Staff will begin leading Brown Bag Lunch programs once pandemic restrictions are lifted, further expanding the institution’s business offerings.
The southern meeting room on the main floor has been turned into a board room, Dent mentioned. That space will be used for small music events and receptions.
“We’re trying to make use of as much space as possible,” Lord said. “As we consider ‘What is a library?’ it’s important to note that digital streaming offerings are increasingly incrementally. We need to keep up with that.
“We’ll always have books,” he promised, “but I don’t know if the library I closed in March will ever be the library that reopens, just like schools. The services are changing.
“With all the tech we offer,” he continued, “we still hear from so many people that it’s so nice to go home and just crack open a book.”
Rahtelli is hoping that the public will respond to the request for financial help.
“We hope that the added knowledge that people have about how the library operates and how much we depend on our patrons and the public, that we reach our goal,” she said.
“Our dear library offers so much to so many and we would love nothing more than to keep offering all the services to so many, young, old and in between!”
Turkey Trot Going Virtual
During the August 27 sitdown with Lord and Dent, the library officials learned that this year’s Turkey Trot — a Thanksgiving morning 5K that also benefits the library — will be a virtual event this year.
The Turkey Trot “typically brings in $60 to $65,000,” Dent said.
Organizer Tom Long confirmed that afternoon, Dent said, that the annual fundraiser will have a virtual event for four full days of Thanksgiving weekend.
“People can go out and do their run, and then hopefully we will be able to recoup at least some of the money that we would otherwise not be getting from having to cancel it,” she added. Sponsorships will benefit the library in addition to the race fees — and participants will still receive race T-shirts, she noted.
While the event will likely not raise as much as previous years, the library and organizers will also not have to cover some of the typical fees, including police and timekeepers.
To donate to the library’s 2020-21 Annual Appeal, visit chboothlibrary.org/give. There is also an option to order a Pave The Way brick on that page.
Contact the library, at 203-426-4533, for details on mailing a donation for the annual appeal.