Incorporated 30 years ago in May of 1991, the nonprofit Friends of the Valley of the Tetons Library isn’t new to the scene, but the board devoted to serving the local library system underwent a transformation last year when the former members, including president Erin Jensen, stepped down to make way for the next wave of volunteers.

Laura Curtis took on the role of president in July of 2020 without prior board experience. With a childhood as an Air Force brat, Curtis’s one constant growing up was libraries and a love of reading, and when she and her husband purchased a home in Driggs in 2011, they knew they wanted to volunteer at the library.

“We were so impressed with the services they were able to provide to the community with a small staff. All the programming, all the creative ideas that come out of the library—they’re intoxicating,” Curtis said. “When the library calls, you answer that call.”

Curtis is joined on the board by vice president Pamala Nolan, treasurer Margi Mathis, Stephanie Crockett, and Kathryn Rawn. The position of secretary is vacant.

“We really appreciate the service of the prior boards,” Curtis said. “Everyone has been so agreeable to help us out, as a completely new board, which can be scary. This is a volunteer board and a working board—it’s a time commitment, and we want to spread that work out, so we’re looking for another member at large in addition to our secretary position.”

Valley of the Tetons Library is a publicly-funded library system governed by a board of trustees and supported through a tax district based on assessed property values in Teton County. Property taxes cover staff, facilities, and operating costs, and account for between 90 and 95 percent of the library’s income. Those last few percentage points are where the Friends come in.

“I am always in awe of the enthusiasm of the library staff in coming up with ideas and implementing them,” Curtis said. “And I’m so grateful for the hard-working and creative individuals on the Friends board who are willing to step up and fill any need. It’s a blessing that we’ve found each other—it’s been an absolute delight.”

During Covid, the Friends took the opportunity to address the needs of library staff as well as the community; it seemed like a great chance to do some much-needed revamping to the Driggs branch (with help from a Teton Springs Foundation grant for additional shelving), including the relocation of the Makerspace to the studio next door.

“During Covid it was so hard on the library staff to be partially restricted and not have regular in-person interactions with patrons, so we tried to raise their spirits with building improvements and find other fundraising opportunities,” Curtis said. “It’s nice to see these projects come to fruition. We like to be there to support major undertakings. The staff come to us with an idea and we can be the busy bees behind the scenes, so they can focus on providing services to the community.”

The Friends spent the past year pursuing grants to enable important projects and programs, such as air purification systems in Driggs and Victor (funded through an Idaho Humanities Council CARES grant), a Makerspace digital media studio (made possible by a matched private donation and a Silver Star grant), and a loaner laptop program (funded by a Community Foundation of Teton Valley competitive grant) to help patrons who couldn’t use the in-library computers because of Covid restrictions but needed to apply for financial assistance, communicate with their families, or make vaccination appointments.

“It’s amazing to see how all the nonprofits in the valley are willing to help each other out,” Curtis said. “The Community Foundation and others have been so willing to guide us and show us the way. Big shout out to all of them.”

The library’s annual book sales over the 4th of July weekend and during the city’s holiday festival are usually a nice fundraising boost for the Friends, but both had to be canceled last year. This year’s Independence Day sale is back on and scheduled for July 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Victor. “We have two years’ worth of books—it’ll be huge,” Curtis said.

Down the line, self-checkout options and renovations on the Victor basement are just a few of the ideas percolating in the minds of the Friends. The biggest item on the list is the establishment of a permanent home for the Driggs branch, which is outgrowing its rented space on Main Street. The Friends are ramping up for a capital campaign in the next couple of years.

To help with that effort, the Friends have reached out to the community for volunteers with expertise in public relations, fundraising, and space design.

“We know the community wants to be involved and to help the library grow, and we want the community to feel like it has been a part of the process,” Curtis said. “It takes a village.”

Email friends@votlib.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities or to apply for a board position.