Ari Brooks

Executive Director
Friends of the Library, Montgomery County

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.

My leadership style is intentional yet highly adaptive and responsive. It is also inviting and participatory. Over the years, serving in various leadership roles in a variety of organizations with different missions, structures, and purposes, I have matched my leadership style to the environment and needs. In my current role as executive director of Friends of the Library, Montgomery County (FOLMC), I have evolved as a leader to adapt and respond to new and challenging situations. Through the dramatic changing landscape of libraries and librarians and Montgomery County’s rapid growth and shifting demographics, I have strategically navigated new priorities while helping maintain relevance for these invaluable community institutions.

Central to my leadership style is an open invitation to the table of idea generation, problem solving, experimentation, and shared accountability which has led to a unified model of mission-driven and collaborative work.

To date, FOLMC has grown from an all-volunteer organization with a fragmented approach to a leading library support group that aligns with the strategic initiatives of the library system in which it was founded to serve. Through intentional steps toward continuous professional growth and articulated vision and goals, FOLMC has built respect and a strong reputation key to our success.

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Prioritize your health. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list and practice daily habits that boost your wellbeing. I run and practice mindfulness. As someone who experienced a life-threatening health emergency several years ago, I cannot stress the importance of this enough. And in doing so, you create a culture that values self-care and contributes to a high functioning team.

Find a trusted mentor. It can be isolating to be in a leadership role. You need someone who understands your challenges, who will support your growth, and celebrate your successes. Make sure you know your goals for a mentor relationship and choose one to help you achieve them.

Develop young professionals. If you love what you do, you will want your organization to last well beyond your tenure. Create pathways for people to grow into leadership positions and invest in their professional development. Lean into their creativity and involve them in top-level decision making.

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

FOLMC has experienced a great deal of growth and success over the past four decades. The operating budget has nearly doubled, and our outreach and impact have been magnified in positive library outcomes, including piloting new innovations that benefit the entire community. At the same time, the organization went through two periods of transition and reorganization with the intent to serve libraries better through a streamlined, unified approach. It also sought to reduce liability and create more meaningful and expanded volunteer opportunities. Despite best efforts, long-time volunteers decided to part ways with the organization. This award recognizes the efforts of my board of trustees and staff that

ensure our mission always drives decision-making, and that integrity is a core value in good and challenging times. Personally, the award is validation for me to be a work in progress and become a stronger, more effective leader and to grow staff to sustain the organization into the future.