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. A website, www.friendsoffitchburglibrary.com
, was created to publicize events, recruit volunteers, solicit contributions, give recognition to corporate partners, and update information on the library process.