Born in the darkest days of the Great Depression, the Friends of the Riverside Public Library will mark its 75th anniversary at its annual public meeting on April 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the public meeting room of the library, 1 Burling Road.
Actually, the event marks the beginning of a year-long celebration of the Friends, which got its start on April 22, 1932. Since their inception, the Friends have been an indispensable part of the institution, principally as a fundraising organization helping make programs and even capital projects a reality through the decades.
In the past year, the Friends have helped fund the installation of new lighting in the library and are currently collaborating with the Riverside Garden Club to help fund a new landscaping plan on library grounds.
Last year, the Friends funded the library’s 75th anniversary celebration and continues to fund the library’s popular summer reading program and the library’s “Books for Newborns” initiative, in which the Friends donate a book to the library in the name of a newborn Riverside resident.
“April 30 will kick off the celebration,” said Ruth Julian, who has been president of the Friends of the Library for the past four years. “We’ve invited all our past officers and we’ll hold our public meeting.”
Julian also announced that the Friends’ annual appeal letter will soon be mailed to residents. This year, Julian said, the Friends are asking each household to donate $10 to the organization.
“We’re asking for $10 in the hopes that everyone will do it,” Julian said. If they get their wish, the Friends would be able to raise $40,000.
That’s nearly half of what the Friends have donated to the library over their history. Typically, in recent years the Friends have given between $10,000 and $15,000 to the library for programs.
“In the last four or five years, we’ve really become involved with programs,” Julian said. “[Library Director] Janice Fisher really likes to work with the Friends and is very open. We’re in a good time, I think.”
“Good time,” on the other hand would not describe 1932, when the Friends decided to rally around their year-old library.
According to the minutes of the first meeting of the Friends, “about 20 people responded to a general call” from Grace Gilman, the librarian to form the citizens group. The stated object of the new group would be “to promote the progressive development of the public library and to increase its usefulness to the community.”
Immediately, the Friends embarked on their first membership campaign, sending postcards to residents. Meanwhile, the group’s first president, Elizabeth Jaros, enumerated a number of programs, including a play, a book review and a lecture. Someone also suggested the children’s story hour.
The gentility of the minutes for that meeting belied complete turmoil at the fledging library, which was officially dedicated on April 6, 1931. According to a history of the early library written by Theresa A. Mandarich in 1974, even before the dedication, library officials sounded the financial alarm.
In February of that year, officials recognized that earlier estimates for running the library were far short of reality. Making matters worse, an expected $7,500 donation from American Legion Post #488 fell through after library board President Henry Babson refused to let the group establish a permanent home in the library’s basement.
By December 1931, the library board contemplated emergency budget cuts, including cutting Librarian Grace Gilman’s salary from $2,400 to $1,600 per year and cutting operating hours from six days a week to four.
Gilman responded by threatening to resign and presenting the board with a revised budget that cut her salary to $1,800 and reinstituted the operating hours to six days per week. That revised budget was passed in April 1932, the same month the Friends of the Library was formed.
In that first year, the Friends raised $100 through the production of a play, $250 in memberships and started the children’s story hour. Later the Friends hired a part-time children’s librarian and paid for that person through the Friends, an offer library officials couldn’t refuse.
By 1933, the library’s financial situation stabilized after voters approved a tax rate increase.