History of Friends of Canadian Libraries

Friends of Canadian Libraries (FOCAL) was officially formed in 1998 as a national association for Friends of Library groups. Our volunteer Executive Committee provides conference programming, regional workshops, the FOCAL POINT newsletter and website and a variety of other events, programs and resources.

One of the events leading up to the formation of our national association was a special “Friends’ Day” program at the Canadian Library Association (CLA) conference in 1997. The Canadian Library Trustees Association and the Canadian Association of Public Libraries co-sponsored the program. The themes of fundraising, advocacy and community building were considered very relevant.

Trustees and Friends met for a brainstorming session in order to examine the options for Friends organizations in Canada. The final “Friends’ Day” session looked at the political landscape, a vision of the future and proposed an action plan. 

This special program occurred during a time when Friends groups were thinking of forming a provincial association in Ontario. Val Marshall (Ajax) was leading that initiative. The “Friends’ Day” program at the CLA conference, and subsequent meetings during the 1998 Ontario Library Association Superconference, convinced member of a newly formed Steering group that a national association was indeed viable.

Members of that early Steering group included:

Val Marshall, Ajax Library Board Trustee and Friends of the Ajax Public Library

Diane Neitzel, Friends of the Nepean Public Library

Gary Archibald, Canadian Library Trustee Association President

Karen Harrison, Past President, Canadian Library Association

Valerie Ethier, Friends of the Greater Victoria Public Library
Ken Sparling, Public Relations and Planning, North York Public Library

Jim Sebastian, Chair of the Friends Advocacy Committee, Hamilton Friends of the Library

Sylvia Teasdale, Coordinator, Community Services, Nepean Public Library

Marie Zelinska, Friends of the Ottawa Public Library

Corporate: Gabriele Schreiber, Random House of Canada

Our Annual General Meeting the following year elected our inaugural Executive and Board of Directors:


President               Val Marshall – Friends of the Ajax Public Library
Vice-President      Jami Van Haaften – Friends of the Sudbury Public Library
Secretary               Ken Sparling – Toronto Public Library – North York
Treasurer              Tom Foulkes – Smiths Falls Friends of the Library

Board of Directors:                

Western Canada   

Lee Teal, Sooke, British Columbia

Nicholas Spillios, Friends of the Edmonton Public Library, Alberta
Central Canada    

Dianne Neitzel, Friends of the Nepean Public Library, Ontario
          Eric Moore, Friends of the Ottawa Public Library, Ontario
 Atlantic Canada

Yvonne Le Blanc,  Friends of the Clare Public Library, Nova Scotia
Canadian Library Trustees Association Representative

Gary Archibald, Western Counties Regional Library, Nova Scotia
Canadian Association of Public Libraries Representative

Sylvia Teasdale, Nepean Public Library, Ontario
Canadian Library Association Representative

Michael Burris, Vancouver, British Columbia

FOCAL Programs and Resources


FOCAL Memberships


  • Foster the development and expansion of Friends groups
  • Allow for the distribution of information and resources to Friends groups
  • Contribute to our national network of Friends groups


FOCAL Website:   www.friendsoflibraries.ca


  • Watch for news, events and promotions
  • Log in to ‘members only’ section for current newsletter, forum, surveys, news and special communications
  • View our collection of conference proceedings and presentations
  • Use our national map of Friends groups across Canada to find Friends groups in your region
  • Seek online assistance by means of the FOCAL mailbox
  • Find links to websites of Friends groups across Canada
  • Visit websites of international associations such as  Friends of Libraries U.S.A and Friends of Libraries Australia


FOCAL POINT Newsletter


  • Mailed to FOCAL members and posted to the ‘members only’ section
  • Provides a way to share news of Friends initiatives, ideas and projects
  • Includes summaries of FOCAL conference programming
  • Archived issues on FOCAL website


Regional Workshops


  • Offer opportunities for participants to exchange information
  • Enable geographically isolated groups to have contact with other Friends in the surrounding areas
  • Allow for groups to share ideas, successes and challenges



FOCAL Conference Programming


  • Shares your expertise and enthusiasm with the library community
  • Offers practical information to help Friends groups be more successful
  • Provides opportunities to learn from experienced Friends groups


FOCAL Resources


  • Professional resource materials to assist Friends groups
  • Manual for library supporters who want to form a Friends group
  • Practical tools your group can use
  • Documents from other Friends groups
  • Presentations and reports from regional workshops
  • Lending library of books and videos
  • FOCAL Market is a source for library-related products and fundraising merchandise


Awards and Promotions


  • Random House of Canada Friend of the Year Award
  • The Chesley Challenge – readers in your community take part in CBC Radio‘s Canada Reads campaign