Smiling young girl reads to encouraging mother in library
Jefferson County Library Foundation: Supporting the Heart of the Community

Jefferson County Library Foundation (JCLF) is the main support for the many branches of the Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL) and that’s no small thing. The JCPL serves hundreds of thousands of Jefferson County residents and it is the JCLF that ensures that no one will go without books, an effort that has become even more critical as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping the library running also means that babies and toddlers will continue to be served with early childhood literacy programming, and much, much more. The foundation, it is clear, is the underlying mechanism behind all these services and more, and we chose to support this effort with a small grant award. We spoke with Jefferson County Library Foundation Executive Director Jo Schantz, to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: Tell us about the Jefferson County Library and why you started the foundation.

Jo Schantz: In 1966, Jefferson County Library (JCPL) created a 501(c) (3) corporation called the Jefferson County Public Library Trust & Endowment Association, designed to provide a way for patrons, citizens and supporters of the public library to make tax-deductible donations and bequests to JCPL. In 1984, the Jefferson County Library Foundation was filed as the trade name for the Trust & Endowment Association. Soon afterward, the JCPL Board of Trustees appointed the first JCLF board of directors.

Kars4Kids: Can you describe the demographic you serve?

Jo Schantz: The Jefferson County Library Foundation (JCLF) provides fundraising and advocacy in support of Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL). Our funding provides library-related services for which tax dollars are not available. Each year, our efforts remain widespread in order to address the varying needs of our growing Jefferson County population—with particular emphasis on serving those from disadvantaged, low-income and socially challenged backgrounds.

We serve nearly 300,000 Library cardholders here in Jefferson County. These include babies, toddlers, preschoolers, grade school-age children, adolescents, students, life-long learners, parents, business owners, entrepreneurs, special-needs populations, adults, retirees and seniors.

Kars4Kids: You recycle a lot of books, according to your website, over 38 tons of books, each year. Can you tell us how this works? How does it benefit the foundation and the people you serve?

Jo Schantz: Our Foundation provides an outlet for deaccessioned books from Jefferson County Public Library and CDs, DVDS, and the like that are somewhat out of date or have fallen in popularity, but are still good materials that the local public enjoys. We resell these books, along with donated materials from the public, at various used book sales that are held throughout the year. This year, we will host two Whale of a Used Book Sales (one in the spring, one in the fall), a March Madness book sale, two popup tent sales, and we also sell books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl records at our Belmar Library Gift & Book Shop in the Belmar Library, and at our Whale’s Tale Books & Gifts shop in Colorado Mills Mall in Lakewood, CO.

By hosting these sales, and through our bookstore outlets, we are repurposing good books and library materials to the public at deeply discounted prices. This means that these items stay circulated in the hands of our Jefferson County residents, and they stay OUT of the landfills!

We have a vendor agreement with an outside source that takes away any damaged books (those that are torn, stained, missing pages, and etc.), and these books are recycled.

Kars4Kids: Can you describe your early literacy programs?

Jo Schantz: Here are two of the Early Childhood Literacy programs that our Foundation helps to support:

  1. Baby’s First Books—In this year-round, specialized program, facilitated by the JCPL, new mothers and fathers throughout Jefferson County are given a book of nursery rhymes (either in English or in Spanish) with the purpose of helping to promote literacy skills through sound, language and the interaction between parent and child. Through Baby’s First Books, our goal is not only to encourage early childhood reading skills, but also to engage new and first-time parents in becoming their child’s primary teachers in this effort.mother and baby participate in JCPL Baby's First Books program

The program was launched two years ago, and we recognize the value of continuing this early childhood literacy program for the educational and cognitive advantages it provides growing children, as well as strengthening the natural bonds between newborns and their parents or caregivers.

In 2016/2017, 1700 books in English and Spanish were distributed in person to parents and caregivers of Jefferson County babies on more than 20 different dates at events hosted by 14 different organizations. These books served as (1) educational pamphlets for parents on the importance of reading to young children, (2) illustrated rhyme books to read aloud, and (3) gentle advertising for community libraries as family resources.

The materials were distributed at the following organizations by our staff or in partnership with staff at these agencies: Jefferson County Women Infants & Children (WIC) clinics (Arvada, Lakewood and Edgewater); Metro Community Provider Network Clinics; Jefferson County Head Start; Boot Camp for New Dads at Lutheran Medical Center; Survival for New Moms at Lutheran Medical Center; Lakewood Early Head Start; Teen Moms class at McClain Community High School; Lutheran Medical Center Birth Center; and JCPL’s Raise A Reader literacy events.

Due to the popularity of this program, we are continuing on with this key early childhood literacy program in 2020 and 2021.

  1. 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten—This program is part of a nationwide initiative to help children ranging from infancy to preschool age (especially those from low-income families) become reading-ready and school-ready. To date, every state in the U.S. hosts this program in some fashion, whether through local libraries, Head Start centers, day care centers, etc. Locally, this program is facilitated by Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL).

Parents or guardians choose a book or story to read to their child (they can read the same story multiple times—that counts, too!), they keep an account of the readings (by logging in the books or stories that are read on a hard copy sheet given to participants via the Library, or through an online portal), and soon each participating child is on his/her way to the 1,000 mark! The program goal is to ensure that every child in Jefferson County—no matter their socioeconomic status—is able to read and ready to learn prior to starting kindergarten.

JCPL began the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten model program in 2016 in three Jefferson County cities Edgewater, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood. The library targeted areas with predominantly low-income families, and where students were identified as falling short for overall literacy and school-readiness. At the beginning, 286 children (plus parents/guardians) signed up for this initial project in these three locations. Today, JCPL has expanded the program to all 10 public libraries and the JCPL bookmobile.

Prior to the significant business challenges posed by library closures, due to the COVID-19 situation, participation in the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program had dramatically surged.  From September 2019 to March 2020, for example, the number of program participants increased from 6,040 to 6,300, the number of books read increased from 641,836 to 728,507, and the number of graduates (participants who reached the 1,000 book milestone) increased from 328 to 377.  Please note that due to library closures in response to COVID-19 health and safety measures, JCPL continues to provide early childhood literacy programming via virtual and online methods.

Kars4Kids: Your website states that you believe the Jefferson County Library is the heart of your community. How so?

Jo Schantz: Jefferson County Public Library can proudly boast that approximately half of the county population holds a library card (nearly 300,000 residents out of a population of more than 587,000). That figure alone tells us that the library is valued and supported by the citizens of this county.

Some of the specific ways in which libraries add value to our communities, and serve as cultural centers for their patrons are enumerated in Community Centered: 23 Reasons Why Your Library Is the Most Important Place in Town (April 30, 2013). This thoughtful piece separates library services into five very broad categories: (1) libraries as community builders, (2) libraries as community centers for diverse populations, (3) libraries as centers for the arts, (4) libraries as universities, and (5) libraries as champions of youth.

The authors conclude: “More than just books and banks of computers, libraries are still places where individuals gather to explore, interact, and imagine.”

This is certainly true of the Jefferson County Library!

Boy plays with homemade slime during activity hour at the Jefferson County Public Library, supported by the Jefferson County Library Foundation

Kars4Kids: The Jefferson County Library Foundation has come up with some creative fundraising ideas. Tell us about your gift and book shop.

Jo Schantz: Our Gift & Book Shop is located in the Belmar Library. This library was recently remodeled, and our small shop is located near the front entrance of the facility where we receive great attention and attract many shoppers. The Gift & Book shop is run solely by volunteers, and is open to the public Monday through Saturday (we are closed on Sundays).

The shop offers gift-quality used books, magazines, CDs, and etc., and we also offer brand new items, such as jewelry, scarves, aprons, reading glasses, finger puppets, coasters, and more.

Revenues from this enterprise help support our foundation, enabling us to provide financial support to the Jefferson County Public Library.

In addition to the Belmar Gift & Book Shop, our nonprofit recently opened a new bookstore in Colorado Mills Mall in Lakewood, CO. (The store opened on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.) This shop is called Whale’s Tale Books & Gifts, and it offers the same items as our Belmar shop—only on a much larger scale! The Whale’s Tale store is nearly 3,000 square feet (as opposed to the Belmar shop, which is just 832 square feet), and we are capitalizing on being the only bookstore in this busy mall setting. We are experimenting with this new endeavor (to see if this is a viable fundraising opportunity) and we will remain at the mall through February 28, 2021, at which time we will assess the financial ROI and determine if we will sign a longer-term lease.

Kars4Kids: All the services provided by the library are offered free of charge for Jefferson County residents. Why is this important, and what has the foundation done to make this possible?

Jo Schantz: Each year, the Jefferson County Library Foundation (JCLF) is charged with raising funds for key Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL) programs. Our funding provides library-related services for which tax dollars are unavailable.

In the current economic climate, our efforts to raise funds for library programs have become increasingly critical. JCLF exists to ensure that our local libraries can keep pace with the times, the trends, the technology, and the widespread demands of our ever-growing, widely diverse population.

As the result of our board’s recent fundraising analysis, we recognized that the foundation has become reliant on used book sales as the mainstay of our current fundraising efforts. Although our physical used book sales (the semiannual Whale of a Used Book Sale) that are held at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, and our annual holiday sales continue to be very successful and our online book sales remain robust, we are being much more proactive in expanding our revenue base and becoming less reliant on book sales overall.

That’s why, during the past two years, we have increased and expanded our fundraising efforts by focusing on: a year-round grant writing effort, in-kind gifts, corporate sponsorships, major donor solicitations, matching and challenge funds, the annual Colorado Gives Day initiative, an annual appeal, newsletter solicitations, low-cost fundraising events and bequests/planned giving.

By employing more widespread fundraising efforts, we are able to contribute even more to our public library. Each year, we are averaging a contribution to the JCPL of between $150,000 and $200,000 annually.

Kars4Kids: Tell us a bit about your Book Giveaways. Who benefits? Why is this program necessary?

Jo Schantz: Our book giveaways occur monthly at our warehouse in Wheat Ridge, CO. These are mainly aimed at organizations that serve low-income children (such as Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, Lowry Elementary School, Vanguard School, The Action Center, and etc.). Schools and nonprofits are welcome to visit our semiannual Whale of a Used Book Sale, as well, and take any leftover/unsold boxes of children’s books for use at their own locations and school libraries.

We also contribute adult hardback fiction and nonfiction books to other organizations in Jefferson County, including nursing homes, senior care facilities, and assisted living residences.

Kars4Kids: How has the pandemic affected the work you do?

Jo Schantz: The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely impacted our small nonprofit, however we have remained diligent in our fundraising efforts, and we have been successful in receiving many general operating grants and funds that have enabled us to continue in our mission—that of providing fundraising support and advocacy for the Jefferson County Public Library.

At the beginning of the pandemic, our office/warehouse complex followed in the footsteps of the library and we closed our doors to staff, donors, and our dedicated volunteers on March 15, 2020, in an effort to stem the spiraling disease. We were able to reopen slowly and safely in July, and resume most of our operations (including grant writing; acceptance of donated goods from the general public; allowing limited numbers of volunteers to return to our warehouse; and so forth).

We have been strict in observing all the current health and safety protocols, including social distancing; wearing face coverings; checking the temperatures of staff and volunteers as they enter the building; and keeping everyone apprised of county health mandates.

I am pleased to point out that no one thus far has contracted COVID-19 from working in or visiting our facilities, including our two book and gift shops.

As far as our general operations, we received monies from the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as a loan from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, plus we were eligible for added funding from the Jefferson County HOPE fund, the Jefferson County CARES fund and various other operations and support grants.

We did take a financial hit as far as receiving funding from in-library book sales (because all 10 branch JCPL locations were closed down for months with no access to the public), and we were unable to produce our spring Whale of a Used Book Sale at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in June 2020 (which meant a loss of $75,000). However, we were able to produce a revised model of our fall Whale of a Used Book Sale, and that activity (which followed all current COVID-19 safety regulations) did gross more than $45,000, which was more than we anticipated.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Jefferson County Library Foundation?

Jo Schantz: As mentioned previously, we will be assessing our Whale’s Tale Books & Gifts shop at the Colorado Mills Mall to see if this operation will continue further into 2021. This shop was originally planned as a holiday sales mart, but we extended our current lease to the end of February to better gauge after-holiday sales activities.

Right now, we are planning a March Madness book sale at a local church gymnasium, and we are looking at new locations for our spring and fall Whale of a Used Book Sale (because the Jefferson County Fairgrounds are no longer available to us at a reasonable rate, due to changes in the fairground’s policies).

Last November, we had hoped to launch our new “Authors in the Afternoon” author presentation series, but due to COVID-19, we postponed the event, and the first installment of the series is now slated for August 27th. We are also moving back our Friends Annual Meeting to July, in order to ensure that attendees will feel comfortable and safe in attending group gatherings, now that the coronavirus vaccine is available.

As always, we will continue to follow our mission—to support and enrich the capabilities, resources and services of the Jefferson County Public Library through fundraising and advocacy efforts that benefit our diverse community.

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