February 17, 2018

Susan Schmidt: United for Libraries—Being Seen, Being Heard

Susan SchmidtOver the years, the American Library Association (ALA) has hosted a number of divisions that support citizen-run library organizations. Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) joined forces with the Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA) in 2009 to form the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF), which is now known as United for Libraries (UFL). Susan Schmidt, immediate past president of Friends of the Little Falls Library and media assistant, Wood Acres Elementary School (both in Bethesda, MD), was elected 2015–16 UFL vice president/president-elect in May 2015.

The organization bills itself as “a national network of enthusiastic library supporters,” and Schmidt fits that bill completely. A former FOLUSA president and long-time board member, Schmidt has served as president of her state and local Friends associations and as a governor’s appointed member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Libraries since 1998, as well as helping coordinating UFL panels at the ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences. LJ made it a point to catch up with her before school started.

LJ: What would you like to see UFL accomplish during your presidency?

Susan Schmidt: My first goal is to help increase the visibility of Friends, trustees, and foundations within ALA. I’ve found that not everybody understands what we are, and what we’re capable of doing, and how we can help the other divisions’ members. I’ve been appointed to the chapter relations committee, and I’m going to take that opportunity to educate the members of each state library association. I think that’s going to help find our voice.

I’d like our whole board and membership to take an active role in the ALA Libraries Transform Campaign, the president’s new initiative, because I think our members can become significant and invaluable communication partners in spreading the Libraries Transform message. [Libraries Transform] has external advocates as one of its partners, and that’s us—Friends, trustees, and foundations of every library.

We want UFL to continue to advocate that Friends, trustees, and foundations in each library system speak with one voice. When you don’t agree on what the library needs, nobody listens. If you’re speaking with one voice for funding—or for survival—I think elected officials listen rather than hearing disparate voices.

How are you going to implement those goals?

I’ve been put on the Chapter Relations Committee (CRC), and to tell you the truth the CRC is new to me in the ALA system, so I’m going to learn as much as I can about it, how the library organizations in each state work, and how UFL can help them.

There are a lot of people out there who just love their libraries, who just want to be library supporters, and UFL is one of the ways we point them in the right direction. It runs the gamut from state Friends and trustees to community library people who just want to have a book sale. Part of our internal goal for UFL is to reach out to those people. So there’s a lot going on.

You were with FOLUSA for a long time before the organizations merged. How is UFL different?

FOLUSA didn’t have the system in place that ALA does, and I’m looking forward to having our voice heard on a larger scale. We’ve very pleased to be part of ALA—it’s been a few years and we’re still growing, and ALA’s still getting used to us too.

I think the change for the best was that people realized that Friends and trustees can really be on the same page. I think before, with two separate organizations, people didn’t understand everybody’s roles. I think roles are very important—in UFL as well as in the local library system. Everybody has to know what their purpose is. And when the merger happened, we learned from each other. We’re going full steam ahead.

What can you bring from your K–12 library experience to your work at UFL?

Not many school libraries have Friends. Sometimes it takes an emergency or a catastrophe like the school moms in Seattle where they were threatened with all the school libraries closing down. I think we can help the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and school libraries and their PTAs, with how to organize a friends’ group—or how to organize to advocate, not necessarily a full friends group. Our membership has an awful lot of information on advocating, as [does] ALA, and you can translate that from a school library to a public library to an academic library to a private school library. Advocacy is advocacy, no matter who’s doing it.

What do you think makes a library Friends or foundation leader? What would you tell someone who’s interested in taking a more advisory role?

Leaders have to turn passion into action. The passion you have for your library and all it can do, not only for books but education and technology and community outreach—turn all that into [working] to keep it that way and to make it better, and to prove to elected officials how important the library is to the community. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love their library…. And to turn that love into concrete ways to support it, I think, is a leader.

And if you don’t know how, we can help.

What are you reading?

My yearly reread of Pride and Prejudice, and also a little Nora Roberts. I also want to mention that my son made me a Little Free Library, and it’s on our front lawn.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.



  1. Richard Schneider says:

    Susan, I hope you reach all your goals this year as President. You are one of the best friends libraries can have and I am glad you are staying active on the national level for Friends and Trustees.