In 1972, a group of 10 dedicated volunteers gathered at the Westfield Memorial Library to plan a new fund raising concept that became their first “gently worn” book sale. This and another string of creative ideas grew over the years, financing a yearly series of educational programs for adults and children broadening the library’s services.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, these founders of Friends of The Westfield Memorial Library celebrated its 40th anniversary of service and honored the 16 past presidents of the volunteer group that’s now grown to over 500 volunteer members.
Each year the Library book sale has continued to grow, becoming a significant, widely anticipated, annual event and a financial hit. Soon, the Friends also will be announcing a bookstore dedicated to children’s books alone.
The current Friends book sales and other programs have now contributed $891, 000 over the years and countless opportunities for members' exposure to concerts, theater and unique museums. The services are aimed at anyone who can benefit. For example “books on wheels” was one of the early programs followed by donation of the Library’s first computers in 1983.
As members of the College Women’s Group and Parent Teacher Organization, the first group of volunteers was familiar with the Library’s potential to expand with resources that would meet specific needs and how to launch a fund drive.
The Westfield Memorial Library is not only one of the town’s most important information sources but a valuable, attractive support center where members can drop in to find a book, read a foreign language newspaper or download an eBook for themselves or children.
The book sale runs four days each spring and attracts patrons from several states. This year 144 volunteers have already helped raise $17,450 in book revenue, selling over 15,000 books.
According to its mission statement, "The Friends of Westfield Memorial Library is a great example of the evolution of a successful community organization that has gone beyond simple fund raising to create a number of educational programs. Our mission goal is to continue to expand public involvement in library programs, expand the knowledge patrons need to succeed."
Growth has continued for the Friends and proceeds have been used to support programs that are growing for example helping complete an extensive upgrade of the library’s cyber data bases and computer equipment.
In 1996, the library’s computer driven programs led the country and the internet sharing program, helped accelerate the program and was featured on ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings.
Students or other patrons can bring laptops, or use the library computers for example, to access several data bases for homework and the book sales of the friends have helped the Westfield library keep up with important technology to help residents and students who will need 21st century kills.
Other events include trips to the opera, a celebration of Black History Month and special children’s winter months fun day.
The funds from the book sale and other sources are also a source of scholarships for students who are interested in various aspects of library science. Thus far 11 scholarships ($42,000) have been awarded. Local scholarship winner, Molly Adams is currently at the WML.
The past presidents of the friends of the Westfield Memorial Library are:
Lynn Kolterjahn (1976-1977) Jean Liggitt (1978-1979), Joan Hunziker , (1980-1981), Joan McDonough (1982-1983), Ann Robinson (1986-1987), Gini Isaacson ( 1987-1988), Jane Curtis (1989-1990), Ann Arkel (1993-1994), Teddy Taranto (1999-2000) Jane Stepanski (2000-2001), Arlene Burgess (2004 –2006), Fran Lemberg (2006-2008), Linnea Rhodes 2007-2010), Diane Weinberg (2009-2011, Jody Lipson (2010-2012), Regina Dowd (2011-2013), Barbara Uhr (2012-2013).
The organization was also honored at Sunday’s program with a proclamation by the mayor’s office presented by Mark LoGrippo. In addition State Assemblyman John Bramnick marked the occasion with a resolution from the State of NJ pointing out the value to the town as a whole, attracting new residents and increased vale to homes.
The library itself was founded in 1873 as a Saturday book club and almost immediately began receiving donations and then in 1905 the town voted to purchase property for the new library site. Andrew Carnegie, whose book library donations are legendary ($10,000) and another 86 families helped launch the new facilities.
Today, 260,000 people check out 350,000 items each year as the Friends of The Westfield Memorial enter their fifth decade of new programs and new media for members.
Phil Israel, library director pointed out “the tremendous growth in electronic and social media use by the patrons of all ages. We expect to have over 500 eBooks alone checked out or downloaded in the next 30 days. We continue to seek more volunteers,” he said, “to keep up organizing the collection. Right now we have over 191,00 titles.”
Entertainment at the anniversary celebration was provided by Sean Garnhart, a Westfield-based pianist, film score composer who took the audience through a series of familiar and popular show tunes.