About Friends of Fitchburg Library

Our History

In 2006, Fitchburg, WI, population 22,500, was the largest city in Wisconsin without its own library. Although over 10,500 Fitchburg residents had library cards for use in other cities, the only local library service was a bookmobile available 5 hours per week. In that year alone, Fitchburg residents had checked out over 300,000 items from surrounding libraries.

Community leaders saw the need to expand and improve library services. After several failed attempts over a 20-year period, Mayor Tom Clauder formed an ad hoc committee to explore potential building sites, designs, and costs. A Library Board of Trustees was eventually appointed and the mayor and city council moved the issue of building a library to referendum. Jayne Kuehn, the President of the Library Board of Trustees approached Barbara Matthews in autumn 2007 to start the Friends of the Fitchburg Library (FOFL).  

Barbara gathered a core group of Fitchburg women and they met weekly in an area coffee shop to map out a strategy. It was an unusual and unprecedented move to have a Friends group before there was a library. With no librarian to guide them and no volunteers with library experience, this was truly a grassroots movement. The goal of the FOFL was to increase the visibility of what a library could mean to the city of Fitchburg. A referendum needed to be passed so it was important to engage the entire community. Since Fitchburg does not have a downtown area, gathering space, school district or post office, it became apparent that the library would meet many needs, not just those often attributed to a library. The Friends’ vision included creating a sense of community for the city.

            The initial officers were:

            President:                    Barbara Matthews

            Vice-President             Jeanie Sieling

            Secretary                     Brenda Smith

            Treasurer                     Karen Grimmer

Karen Julesberg and Maggie Wysocki chaired the book sales committee, Nancy Arnold chaired a committee to focus on events and Linda Weidemann provided graphic design and publicity expertise.

 Initial monetary resources were obtained by approaching the Community Economic Development Authority in Fitchburg. The Friends incorporated in Wisconsin as a non-profit, and applied for and received IRS status as a 501(c) (3). They registered with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing as a charitable organization and then got down to work. 

To give the city of Fitchburg a snapshot of how a library would benefit the entire community, the Friends developed a ten (10) point plan and put it into action:

  1.   With the help of realtor and Fitchburg resident, Phil Sveum, the Friends (FOFL) leased space across from City Hall to hold book sales and other events. This site became a visible cornerstone of the movement.
  2. To solicit used book donations for the store, the FOFL placed drop bins throughout the community which were checked and emptied weekly. The bins also advertised the used book sales held on the 3rd Saturday of every month.
  3. Our website was created to publicize events, recruit volunteers, solicit contributions, give recognition to corporate partners, and update information on the library process.
  4. A tri-fold brochure was mailed to every household in Fitchburg.  The brochure, entitled Now is the time....., advocated what a library could do for Fitchburg. It also had information on the Friends and a tear-off for contributing and volunteering. The back of the tri-fold had facts regarding library use and the Fitchburg community. This tri-fold brochure won a “best friends” award from ALTAFF, a division of the American Library Association.
  5. Author events and musical programs were held at the site to further engage the community. A flyer advertising one of the events also won a ‘best friends” award from ALTAFF.
  6. The Friends did outreach to some of the underserved areas of the city by hosting Halloween parties for children and families. The Great Halloween Hunt, initiated by FOFL and enjoyed by hundreds of local children, continues as a yearly event in our library. To promote lifelong learning, many events included book giveaways. In the area where the population was mostly Latino, the book giveaways included children’s books in Spanish and Spanish/English dictionaries. Over 2000 bookmarks were distributed through local schools to provide one free book to children who came to the summer book sales.
  7. FOFL ran a Question and Answer column in the local bi-weekly newspaper that gave information on the proposed library and the benefit to the community. Talking points were developed for volunteers.
  8. At the used book sales, the Friends held story time and offered craft projects for pre-school and elementary school aged children. Multi-use book bags with the Friend’s logo were also available at the sales
  9. To increase visibility, the Friends maintained a presence at the Summer Farmer’s Market, Art Fair and monthly musical concerts in the city’s largest park. T-shirts were given to volunteers with the FOFL logo and website to make the Friends identifiable. Bookmarks with library information and other promotional materials were available as well as free books for children.
  10. Barbara Matthews and Jeanie Sieling taped a presentation for the local access television channel to give residents information on the benefits a library would bring to the community. The presentation ran for several weeks.
As the result of these efforts, an advisory referendum passed and the city council approved the construction of a library. Deb Johnson was appointed as interim librarian to guide the building process. In acknowledgement of the many contributions the Friends of the Fitchburg Library made in bringing the Library to Fitchburg, FOFL was again honored by ALTAFF and received the Baker Taylor award. This included a check for $1000. Barbara Matthews traveled to Washington DC to receive the award at the American Library Association Annual Meeting.

Having achieved their initial goal of bringing a library to the city, The Friends engaged in strategic planning.  They surveyed volunteers, community members, and other Friends’ organizations. A mission statement was drafted along with values and goals. Fundraising took on greater importance and it was with great pride that FOFL made an initial contribution of $20,000 to the Capital Campaign before the library was constructed.

In the spring of 2011, the city of Fitchburg celebrated the grand opening of its new library. This was the result of a 3 year “labor of love” for the Fitchburg residents who came together to form the Friends of the Fitchburg Library. The volunteer base grew to over 100 residents who saw the value of bringing a library to the city where “Friends” could gather, connect and learn.

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