At Home in the Library

Leading Friends of the Library with a passion for books


Friends of the Library Southport & Oak Island is in good hands. At the top of the all-female nonprofit board of directors are CAROL BROLLEY, president, and CINDY PHILLIPS, vice president.

Brolley, an industrial engineer from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, retired in 2019 from United Parcel Service (UPS) after a thirty-five-year career with roles in industrial engineering and operations management culminating as president of global business services for the last ten years. She’s lived all over the U.S. and has traveled to forty countries meeting UPS workers, customers, and government officials all over the globe.

Phillips had a three-part career with leadership roles in finance, technology, and telecom followed by managing her own executive leadership consulting business for fourteen years and ending her career as the executive director of a nonprofit senior living community.

But it’s Brolley’s and Phillips’ passion for libraries and literacy that is fueling the extension of their technical skills, business acumen, and leadership aptitude to the Friends of the Library which provides financial and operational support to the Margaret and James Harper, Jr. Library in Southport and Barbee Library in Oak Island.

Brolley’s love of books goes back to her childhood.

“My mother was an avid reader and a life-long learner who instilled the love of reading in all of her children,” Brolley recalls. “She took us to the public library once a week to check out new books. When I was old enough, I walked to the library with my friends and spent many afternoons there, both after school and during the summers.”

When she moved to Southport, Brolley wanted to meet like-minded people with similar passions and beliefs. When she found Friends, she says, “Since I love to read and live right across the street from Harper Library, I knew it was a good fit.”

Phillips, who attended Fielding Graduate University for her Ph.D. in organizational development, remembers her college libraries. “As a lifelong learner, I loved spending time in libraries, places full of information and knowledge,” she says. “I felt so at home.”

Phillips is also hooked on bookstores. “I love bookstores, can never pass one by without stopping. Books feel and smell like a warm blanket,” she says. Coincidentally, Friends of the Library runs a used bookstore in the rear of Southport Realty, selling books for one dollar each as its main fundraiser.

Like Brolley, Phillips immediately knew that Friends of the Library was the organization for her. She said, “I wanted to volunteer where I could help bring people together and drive positive change in our community.”

A perfect match, The Friends of the Library Southport & Oak Island is on a mission of positive change.

Friends of the Library raises money for upgrades to book collections, equipment, and facilities. Friends also uses donations to sponsor educational and cultural programs to develop new ideas and perspectives for patrons of all ages, bringing people together to form bonds around common interests.

Brolley and Phillips sit at the top of a board of ten dedicated volunteers. Brolley, who is serving her second year as president says, “We have a strategic plan that focuses on key initiatives to strengthen, engage, fundraise, partner, and advocate in support of our mission and vision of supporting our community libraries.”

Recently, Brunswick County Library implemented Overdrive, bringing hundreds of e-books to patrons. It was the first in a list of improvements advocated for by Friends of the Library. The list also includes improving the book collections and hosting educational programs with an emphasis on children and teens.

Phillips, who succeeds Brolley as president in 2023, adds, “We also want to build more connections to community groups. We know we are stronger together. And we will advocate to our elected officials to raise the funding for libraries in Brunswick County. That alone will make huge improvements possible.” Improvements such as becoming more accessible, extended hours, and more welcoming, inviting spaces.

Phillips can envision what that looks like.

“The library in my last hometown was inviting and nurturing. Bright, sunny and peaceful. I loved finding my comfy chair where I could read and learn,” she says. “Over time, it became a coffee shop. That’s the feeling I love, more than just bricks and mortar.”

Brolley noted that while the libraries will never go away, they need to evolve to keep up with the needs of growing community. “The libraries are on the precipice of great change to improve the quality of services and resources available to our patrons. Friends are ready to support these improvements with volunteers, ideas, and funding,” she adds.

And Phillips excitedly paints the future vision, “I see a library that is less about stacks and more about a great community gathering place, a hub of energy, learning, and connection.”

To view more of photographer John Muuss’s work, click here

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Categories: Features