Friends of the Library History
Organized largely by La Crosse Public Library trustee Quincy H. Hale and library director Gertrude Thurow, a group of La Crosse citizens joined together as the La Crosse Public Library Friends at an organizational meeting on April 26, 1964, at Washburn School. The purpose of the Friends was to develop support for and disseminate information about a new library building. Dr. William B. Gallagher was elected president; Mrs. Emerson G. Wulling, vice-president; and Mrs. George Larrabee secretary-treasurer. K. Jean Solberg, La Crosse Public Library's assistant librarian, coordinated most of the publicity and petition campaign.
Signatures were solicited for a petition to put the question of building a new library on a referendum for La Crosse voters to decide. The campaign was successful and nearly 7000 signatures were amassed by the end of June 1964. Heavy campaigning by 400 volunteers continued until the November 3, 1964, election. The referendum called for the city to finance bonds worth $890,000 for purchasing a site, erecting and equipping a new library facility. Students as well as adults helped to "get-out-the-vote." The effort was successful and the vote passed by an unprecedented ratio of four to one.
In June 1967 the Friends of La Crosse Public Library as they were now called were reorganized by the steering committee to become a permanent group. At the first regular meeting on September 12, efforts were quickly directed to the dedication ceremonies of the new La Crosse Public Library building to be held November 5, 1967. Officers elected at the meeting were Mrs. James H. Bell, president; Myer Katz, vice-president; Julia Steinke, secretary; and William M. Laux, treasurer. The local group was very active with the Friends of Wisconsin Libraries (FOWL) and Myer Katz was a representative for a number of years.
Unfortunately the Friends' records are lacking for most of the 1968-1975 period with the exception of the check stubs. Although the group was not dormant, limited activity seems to have taken place. Inexpensive items such as flowers, posters, paper plates, etc., were frequent expenditures. Aside from membership dues, no real fund raising efforts seem to have been pursued until 1971 when the first booksale took place. This became an annual event and eventually two sales were held: one in the spring and one in the fall. In the spring of 1982 the city attorney questioned the legality of a private organization selling library (city) property (i.e. library discarded materials). By the following year, a compromise was reached whereby the Friends would buy the discarded materials for $1 before the booksale. The November 1989 booksale brought in close to $5000.
Once the Friends began to earn more money on a regular basis, equipment and material needs that extended beyond the allotted library budget were donated. One of the first purchases was a dry mounting press and supplies in June 1971.
Speakers were also generally paid an honorarium by the Friends for special programming. For example, Miss Margaret Gleason was paid $50 in April 1972 for her discussion on genealogy. Films were also rented for National Library Week and children's programming. The same types of giving to the library have continued and increased since that time. Examples of gifts are: strollers, book bags, shopping baskets, flowers, hospitality fund, trophy cases, author talks, speakers, and funds for children's programming and book talks. Between 1971 and 1982 over $9500 was spent on the library. In 1990, the Friends spent $3650 on library programming and an additional $3700 on equipment.
Staff have also benefited from the efforts of the Friends. Anna Pederson, Gertrude Thurow and Marion Musselman were recipients of teas and gifts upon their respective retirements in the mid 1970s, and Jean Solberg in 1980, all long-time employees of La Crosse Public Library. The Friends later began to host an annual brunch for staff and volunteer recognition. Certificates and gifts are presented to volunteers who have donated a considerable amount of time helping out in the library. Gifts to the staff over the years have included a refrigerator, coffee pots, a micro-wave for the staff lounge, a small staff picnic area in the rear of the library building, Christmas decorations, and LPL anniversary gifts. Since the newest addition to the La Crosse Public Library facility was completed in 1996, a Friends Booksale Room has been open, although booksale events are still popular.
A manuscript collection of Friends materials can be accessed in the Archives Room as Mss 13. Materials from this organization are severely lacking before 1976 although promotional and financial records of 1964 survive. Materials include a full set of by-laws and constitutions (1965-1995), lists of board members (gaps from 1970-1975), financial records (1964-1993), membership lists, minutes (1967-1970) and a full set of board minutes since 1976, a few early photographs (1964; 1967; 1989-1998), and promotional materials and newsletters (1966-1969; 1989-1997). The financial materials include check stubs, 1964-1988, and provide some record of activity before 1976. There is also a correspondence file (1968-1973; 1990), and historical materials which include a summary of activities of 1968-1969, newspaper clippings, and a little information about Jean & Emerson Wulling. Also a folder of legislative activities includes information about forming public library systems in Wisconsin 1968-1971.
Anita Taylor Doering