ASSOCIATES (2005, November, v. 12, no. 2) -

*Richland Public Library Staff Sumo Wrestles for a Good Cause!*


Lisa Adams
Community Services Coordinator
Richland Public Library
Richland, Washington

The City Manager shows up at a library staff meeting in January. The news isn’t good. He is looking at all city departments to come up with ways to cut their individual budgets immediately. By cutting the budget for the remainder of 2005, he explains, budget cuts over the next few years would have less of an impact instead of happening all at once.

The library manager, staff and board had a decision to make – cut the book budget of cut the hours? Knowing the book budget might have to be cut in future budget cuts, it was decided to close Friday nights and Sundays. These hours were staffed by call-in help, so would not impact wages and benefits of full-time staff.

Although the public didn’t seem to mind the library being closed on Friday nights, they weren’t happy about the Sunday hours being cut. Sundays were the only day that some people could come to the library. It was a popular day for students who played sports or had after school jobs, as well as a place where families could go after church.

A local businessman stepped in and offered to donate $2000 in order to re-open for a month of Sundays at the end of the school year. His thoughts were this would start a grassroots effort to re-open on Sundays. Unfortunately, no other businesses stepped up at that time. The library, which was closed on Sundays during summer months anyway, once again closed its doors on Sundays.

After the Labor Day holiday, our library manager told us at a staff meeting that the Library Foundation would like to have a fundraiser to try and raise the money to re-open on Sundays. This sounded like a great idea…until we heard that they wanted to hold this fundraiser in just over three weeks!

Our library marketing/programming committee consisting of six people, sprung into action. We knew the Foundation wanted to hold a 24-hour read-a-thon with guest readers gathering pledges from friends and family for their allotted reading time. This didn’t sound like that interesting of a program to those of us who work in the library and plan programs for all ages. We didn’t think anyone would come after midnight to hear a reader, so we suggested to the Foundation that they do a two-day event from noon to midnight on a Friday and a Saturday. We also suggested that maybe we should have some alternate programs for people to attend that would showcase the types of programs available throughout the year at the library. We were given the OK to proceed and come up with programs.

The brainstorming began. The mood was frantic. We were getting delirious. The ideas were deteriorating. But…were they really bad ideas or were they crazy enough to be just what we needed to get the media’s attention and to draw people to the library late at night? Sumo wrestle with a librarian? Who on earth would do that? Crazy library patrons that’s who!

Ideas poured out. Soon we had three local authors lined up. We had an in with a national award winning yo-yo champion whose aunt is on our staff. He offered to do a demonstration. Dessert garnishing tips, a kayaking lecture, a dog agility demonstration, holiday decorating ideas, a bomb robot, weaving and spinning instruction, craft activities, and a “pamper yourself” room where you could get a massage rounded out the programming events.

While prominent community members read stories in the story circle, raising money, numerous people enjoyed all the other activities also going on.

Then, the programs were dying down and staff was donning padded sumo suits that a local business had let us borrow. Needless to say, if you have never been in one of these suits, I suggest you try it! I’m not sure what was funnier – trying to get in and out of the suit, or the actual “wrestling”. We charged $5 to go a round with library staff. Staff was sweaty. Staff was sore. Staff was more than willing to surrender their suits to anyone who would pay the $5! The laughter in the library was at a new high. Our director was acting as the referee, and a patron who does some announcing work, volunteered to give a blow by blow. I’m not sure I would recommend sumo wrestling as a library activity, but it was definitely a new level of service for us!

All in all, the library raised over $10,000 during this two-day event. The amount needed to re-open Sundays for the remainder of 2005 and resume the normal Sunday schedule in 2006 was approximately $22,000. We had a calendar posted and every time we made another $500 – the cost of one Sunday, we played cheers and noisemakers over the PA system. This gave everyone in the library a sense of ownership and accomplishment.

The local newspaper and all the local television stations came out, interviewed staff and provided a lot of coverage. This outpouring of public support for their library did not go unnoticed. The City Council, apparently didn’t like looking bad to the voters, and ordered City staff to “find” the money to supplement the raised money to stay open all the Sundays in 2006. It just goes to show, if a library staff is committed enough to a cause they believe in, anything can happen!

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