Mary Pritchard has been the Friends of the Covington Library Board of Directors President for almost as long as the library has been open.
“I joined Friends of the (Covington) Library in September of 1993, six months after the library opened, because I had a conflicting meeting,” Pritchard said. “I first became president in 1994 and tried passing it on a couple times but it always seems to come back to me.”
Pritchard is readily giving up the seat since her and her husband are moving in the spring to finally enjoy retirement.
She’s not the only one, a majority of board members have reached retirement age and are either moving or choosing to leave their roles to relax. Unfortunately, not enough people are stepping up to take over the nonprofit’s board.
“If we don’t have an executive board by Dec. 31 we shutdown,” Pritchard said.”We basically have one person on our board right now that is willing to continue as an officer. But unless there is a full board she doesn’t want any part of it, and I don’t blame her.”
If the nonprofit dissolves, the Covington branch of the King County Library system will lose funding for nearly half of its programs, and teen programs will take the biggest hit.
Pritchard said the nonprofit raises around $10,000 a year for programs. Friends of the Library has an open budget so the librarians can disperse the funds as they see fit.
“We do help with some of the ongoing programs especially with the teen and tweens … where we supply money so they can provide materials,” Pritchard said. “That’s the age group that’s hard to get to come to the library. Those between 11, 12 to 13, 14.”
The Friends of the Library also support the children’s programs and adult programs, but the teen programs use the most funds.
Librarian Elena Herring, who is in charge of the teen programs, said she would be devastated to see the Friends of the Covington Library shut down.
“As a teen librarian, it’s really important to me that I engage my teen community in all aspects,” Herring said. “It’s not just programing but engaging them to become future leaders. To do that I need volunteer opportunities and I need a way to put them in the driver seat.”
One of Herring’s larger programs is a volunteer program for teens to help teach others about sustainable living.
“But I absolutely need the support of the friends,” Herring said. “It’s not just the funding, which is nice, but it’s also the leadership in the friends itself, being able to be a part of an organization that is a part of the community that can do things the library can’t.”
Herring said teens volunteer with the library and Friends of the Covington Library as book sorters. Other programs include Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs (STEM) that is open to both boys and girls, a possible future community garden and fun parties to give teens something to do outside of school. One of these programs included learning to use micro:bits to create “magical” items such as wands, like those described in the Harry Potter book series. Micro:bits are pocket-sized computers that are 70 times smaller and 18-times faster than some computers used in schools today, according to micro:bit.org.
“Funding for teens is not at the level that children and adult programs are,” Herring said. “Teens are more busy, they are more difficult to arrange … so when it comes to funding teens suffer just because of the fact we don’t see the high numbers. But some of these teens are special needs and use these programs to network and create friendships. Same with homeschool students.”
Herring said programs would either be cut or lose some of its’ incentives such as food and program materials.
Since the board has slowly dwindled, the Friends of the Covington Library officers have an ongoing bookshelf where library goers can purchase used books for a low price, and three book sales a year. Pritchard said the three sales bring in about $6,000 a year and the ongoing book shelf brings in about $3-4,000. The board has had to pull money out of the nonprofits savings to balance the budget the last couple of years.
“We are seeing a slight downturn,” Pritchard said. “We have Kindles and Nooks, you can read on your computer. But people still like books. I use my Kindle but I prefer holding my book.”
When the nonprofit had more members, the board used to hold raffles and other events to bring in more funding. Each year the board opts to pay for a Santa Claus to come to the library for photos with children. This event garners no funds but is a fun tradition, Pritchard said.
While Pritchard is looking forward to retirement, after decades of volunteering at local Parent Teacher Associations and the library, she doesn’t want to see the nonprofit pull away from Covington.
Libraries hold a special spot in Pritchard’s mind. As a child her and her family moved all over the states since her father was in the military. While she was attending new schools and making new friends, the one consistency in her travel was libraries.
“Libraries always, to me, has been a safe place,” Pritchard said. “No matter where I lived there was a library. There might not be a mall or shopping, but there was a library.”
“When we moved here we had a library in Kent, Fairwood and there was a teeny-tiny one in Black Diamond and Maple Valley … so when we started seeing this being built … they asked for volunteers to come help put books on the shelves … and when I no longer had a Tuesday night meeting I came here and I stayed. I’d hate to see this library lose so many programs. Because if you lost half of the programs the use of the library would go down.”
To have a full, functioning board eight members need to become officers. There are certain state and federal laws Friends of the Library need to follow to be a qualified nonprofit tax-wise. This includes a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. State law only requires a president and a treasurer, but Federal law requires minutes of meetings to be recorded so a secretary is an asset. Then there must be four board members at large. Board members are required to head a committee, such as book sale committee or budget committee.
Pritchard said the board is hoping to attract some younger members who can bring fresh ideas and revitalize the nonprofit’s role at the library. The youngest member on the current board is in their 50s and the oldest member is in their 80s.
Pritchard said a couple of people have stepped up, but she is still looking for more members.
Anyone interested in becoming a member can pick up and fill out an application at the Covington library. Yearly dues are $5 for adults and $2 for students. Pets can also become “members” for $5 a year, and are featured yearly in the nonprofit’s newsletter. So far the board has seven pet members, including a bird and a lizard.
“Those of us still here know new people may change the way things are done,” Pritchard said. “But we are not afraid of change. And everyone here is willing to share their knowledge.”