The Friends of the Dwight Foster Public Library celebrated four decades of supporting reading, education and community during its annual meeting Tuesday.
Members of the organization gathered for refreshments, a silent auction, business meeting and music, outlining what the Friends group has done during the past year.
“In the words of one of our founding members, Joanne Moon, a little extra goes an extra long way,” said Friends of the Library President Janine Fixmer. “What I have found is that is the theory behind the Friends from the very beginning — when they were asking for a dollar or $2 to join and become a Friend — was that the membership fee is not very expensive, but when you pool together how many families and participants we have as members, it really does go an extra long way.”
Today, the membership fee is only $10 and the organization has some 200 on its roster.
“The Friends of the Library is something that kind of operates behind the scenes and we do just a little bit that turns into a lot,” Fixmer said, likening the organization to a membrane around an egg.
“That’s kind of what the Friends is like. It takes a whole community to hold that egg together and do its job,” Fixmer said. “The truth is that we’ve all kind of been there and done that and we all have our seasons, and that’s what we celebrate here on the board. We work together closely and we have a lot to do, so we all have to count on each other. If I forget what to do, someone else is going to have my back to pick up the slack or remind me. That’s kind of how we make a community work.”
Also speaking was library director Eric Robinson. He noted that on Friday, he was attending a meeting with 24 other area library directors, and many mentioned that their library was celebrating a milestone such as 50 years.
“And they were very proud, and I was very quiet,” he said. “And it was beginning to strike me because the Friends have been so integral to this library and this community and really supporting what the very few library directors who have been here have been able to accomplish over time ...”
When he shared that the Dwight Foster Public Library is more than a century old and its Friends group is embarking on its 41st year, the other library directors were astonished, he said.
“Most libraries aren’t blessed like this one is, with the amount of Friends and type of support our Frends provide. Some communities really struggle. They have 10 Friends and they do a few things every year and really try to help their community,” Robinson said. “But Fort is very different. One of the reasons I wanted to come here is you could tell there is a lot of helping each other in the community.”
He said that many of the programs the Friends of the Library supports are ones that staff and volunteers have suggested as they’ve seen community needs.
“I just want to say thank you because a lot of what the Friends do for us is provide the mechanism to do things we actually would not be able to do otherwise,” he said.
Robinson pointed out that the library itself has no programming budget. The Friends of the Library provides $10,000 toward that end.
“It’s not a blank check, per se, but the idea that they have faith in us to say ‘you know what the community needs in different age groups” is satisfying.
Not only is the money used for fun and educational programs, but it also has gone for more serious efforts, such as Narcan training, he noted.
“Our library is very different than many libraries in the area,” Robinson continued. “Many libraries are seeing a decrease in their circulation. We are not. We are going the other way by 3 or 4 percent. Other libraries are seeing fewer people come in. We are not. We are seeing an increase of almost 6 to 9 percent every month. More importantly, what the Friends have donated that money to, we have seen an 11 percent increase in our programming attendance. So those funds and that faith in us to find things that are of interest to people, that they are engaged in, is well spent.”
He cited as examples Pretend and Play, and visiting Alzheimer’s patients at assisted living facilities. The Friends also support Craft Club, Read to the Dogs, the Seed Library, author visits, an adult reading program with Opportunities Inc., a winter adult reading program, free books at the Fort Atkinson Food Pantry and the Memory Café.
“Amy Lutzke used to be a social worker, and felt need to address issues as people are aging,” Robinson said. “She took it upon herself to start learning and training, worked with county and others, and now people are coming here to get training. She offers individuals with family members who might have Alzheimer’s or dementia and caregivers to come here every two weeks and they can work with that family member and try to bring back some of their memories. She does that through music and a variety of methods. It’s really very impactful.”
The summer reading program’s participation grew by 27 percent this year, Robinson said, adding that several food-related programs have been held in conjunction with the Hoard Historical Museum.
“There are a few other not-for-profits trying to help early literacy in the area, but the Friends are at the tip of the spear,” he said, reporting that the Friends provides a “board book” to every family with a newborn at Fort Memorial Hospital.
“The number of people participating and using us and this building are part of that community,” Robinson said. “It’s nothing I am doing. I’m just the guy that says, ‘That sounds like a great idea and if it doesnt work, we’ll figure it out.’
“They really wouldn’t have those ideas to go and work on those challenges if they didn’t have the support of the Friends,” he added.
Also during the annual meeting, the Friends of the Library raised $711 from its Imagination silent auction of chairs, and one table, decorated by area artists. Attendees then heard Fort Atkinson’s Bill Camplin. a former library board director, sing songs from his children’s CD released in 1993.
Attendees thanked retiring board members Bonnie Babcock, Kim Ehlers and Sue Hartwick and welcomed new board members Luke Bocher and Richele Wendt.
It was reported that the membership goal for the year is 250 and the Friends had 233 members as of the afternoon.
In addition, attendees were informed that the Friends of the Library now is accepting credit card payments for online membership registration and sales.