‘Friends’ give back with free outdoor jazz concert

May 3 event at HP library comes amid challenging times

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 30, 2014

Who are the ‘Friends?’

The Hazel Park Library Friends is a group comprising about 50 individuals. Of those, about 25 regularly attend their meetings, which are held at 6:30 p.m. the first Monday of every month in the library’s Monroe Room. They’ve been so busy lately, they’ve started holding an informal coffee hour at around 10 a.m. the second Saturday of each month.

The Friends are the fundraising branch of the library, and they accomplish this goal in a number of ways. Their two biggest moneymakers are the used book sales. The next one will likely be held in August, according to Corrine Stocker, library director. The Friends usually raise around $1,000 at each sale. They organize it, publicize it, set it up, take it down and deal with the remains.

Other fundraisers include a variety of small sales held throughout the year, including bake sales and candy sales. At press time, they were selling homemade chocolate-covered pretzels for $1 each. The Friends also have perennial plant sales and occasional community events like the bowl-a-thon at Hazel Park Bowl and the day at Coney Cravers, where a percentage of all sales went to the Friends. They’ve also been contacting local businesses and appealing for financial support.

With the money they raise, the Friends support a number of causes at the library. Recently, they approved a donation of $1,000 to the library’s summer reading program, helping to pay for crafts and performers that will keep the children entertained and the pages turning. They typically pay for the food served at the summer reading picnics, and they pay for Santa’s visit each holiday season, one of the library’s most popular events.

The Friends continue to fund new materials for the library’s growing Arabic-language collection, which has been a hit with Chaldean residents at local senior homes who don’t read or speak much English. The library’s senior outreach program doesn’t want them to run out of material to read, but the books are costly, so the Friends have really helped.

And anyone who has used the computers at the library recently will have benefitted from the Friends: The new computers donated by the Canton Public Library have all been updated with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010, thanks to the Friends purchasing the software licenses at a discounted price through techsoup.org. 

Those who are interested to help the Friends help the library are encouraged to check out the monthly meetings, Stocker said.

“We usually get a new member each month,” Stocker said. “It’s something that we want to step up.”

-— Andy Kozlowski

HAZEL PARK — Over the years, the Hazel Park Memorial Library has developed a reputation as the center of the community. It’s a safe and secure place where students can study for school, where adults can research new careers and where everyone can enjoy a free programming lineup that is remarkably robust for a library so small.  

“I’ve always thought of us as the little library that does a lot,” said Corrine Stocker, library director. 

Much of what the library offers is thanks in part to the Hazel Park Library Friends, a group of volunteers dedicated to raising the money needed to maintain quality offerings. 

Their latest event, however, is not a fundraiser. Rather, it’s a way to give back to the community that has supported them over the years.

“I Survived Old Man Winter” will take place on the outdoor patio of the library at 123 E. Nine Mile from noon-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, with a special concert by the Hazel Park High School Jazz Ensemble from 1-3 p.m.

There will be arts and crafts for the kids, and free hot dogs, nachos and drinks for all. The event goes on rain or shine, moving indoors in the event of inclement weather. Leashed dogs can attend, as well.

“We hope people will meet each other and get to know their neighbors better,” said Bobby McDermott, Friends member. “America seems to have a case of civic poverty, where people no longer know each other that well, but I think we can get back to that sense of community. People are eager to get back to that.” 

Events like this are increasingly difficult, given the library’s financial situation. Stocker said that for the upcoming fiscal year 2014-15 budget, the library won’t be spending any savings. Instead, they will only spend revenue — what the library brings in from various local and state funding sources, along with whatever they raise themselves through fees, fundraising and grants.

The revenues have gone down 40 percent since 2009, due to eroded property values, housing vacancies, delinquent property taxes, and reduced state support. The library once received about $30,000 in state aid per year back in the 1980s, but now they only receive about $8,000 per year. One of the only sources that remains stable are penal funds — proceeds collected from police tickets that go to the library under the state constitution, amounting to a consistent $20,000-$25,000 a year. 

The library’s revenues for FY 2014-15 are projected to be about $350,000. This is a $200,000 decrease from FY 2009-10. Although revenues have only decreased since then, the library has continued to spend an overall budget of about $550,000 a year, offsetting the difference out of savings.

The current fiscal year (2013-14) will come in at a reduced $400,000, due to cost-saving measures that included closing the library on Friday mornings, cutting the book budget and continuing to reduce staff hours. But now, the library is aiming to shrink the budget to $350,000, in line with expected revenues. For perspective, $350,000 is what the library has spent in the past on staffing alone.

This means more staffing cuts will likely be necessary.

“There is nothing else I can cut,” Stocker said.

Currently, library staff consists of only two full-timers: the library director and assistant library director. Beyond that, there are three part-time librarians: one works 18 hours a week, another works only six hours, and another works only five. Then, there are four part-time clerks, one of whom works only four hours a week. There are also two pages and a computer tech, each working about eight hours a week, and a cleaning person who works 15 hours a week.

Another problem is the building itself. Built in 1959, the library is showing its age, and although the city technically owns it, maintenance responsibilities fall to the library.

The heating and cooling system needs to be replaced — a cost of about $50,000. The roof needs to be repaired. The elevator sensor needs to be replaced — a cost of about $4,000. And the library recently found out its network server is 12 years old and needs to be replaced before it shorts out.

“It’s on borrowed time,” Stocker said of the server. “The library itself is a bit of a money pit, and it’s money we don’t have.”

McDermott said the library has its challenges but the Friends keep moving forward to meet them head on.

“And Corrine deserves a lot of credit here,” McDermott said. “Without her leadership and the way she is, this Friends group wouldn’t operate the way it does. She’s a great leader — the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time.”

Stocker said that while she’s not sure the full extent of sacrifices that will have to be made to keep the library fiscally solvent, one part she doesn’t want to compromise is the number and quality of programs the library has, and the quality of the staff.

“That’s what I want to maintain going forward,” Stocker said. “I’m not sure how easy it will be, given our limited budget, but it is what makes us special and sets us apart.”