When Grant Lynch was hired as the Waukesha Public Library's new executive director in 2012, he wasn't sure the importance of the local "Friends of the Library" group.
"Where I came from before (the Princeton Public Library in Illinois), the library didn't have a great relationship with its Friends as they sometimes tended to support other organizations," Lynch said. "So I didn't give them a lot of weight."
His opinion, however, soon changed.
"Coming here, I realize how valuable the group can be," Lynch said. "Our Friends group does an incredible job and it's definitely great to acknowledge them."
Lynch and others recently did just that during a ceremony at The Rotunda in downtown Waukesha to honor the Friends of Waukesha Public Library's 50th anniversary.
A proclamation was given from both the city and county that recognized the Friends' efforts over the years.
"They do so much work behind the scenes that they don't get credit for, so I think we could honor them once every 50 years," Lynch said with a laugh. "We want to continually to thank them and show them our gratitude."
Pat Church, the group's board president, called the anniversary banquet "fantastic" and said some original 'Friends' members were at the banquet.
Lynch said he hoped John Melster would have been one of these people. He was an original member and was on the board for 46 of the Friends' 50 years. He died earlier this year, but his widow was there to celebrate his contributions.
"I think that's a real testament to how solid our Friends' group is," Lynch said. "It reflects a solidly run organization where they want to be here for a long time."
Church added: "It's amazing how many people have supported the library over the years."
The Friends of the Waukesha Public Library is an organization that works with the library to promote and expand the library's programs and services.
"We try to fill in any gaps that the library might have," Church said. "We provide a lot of volunteers for programs."
One upgrade to the library that was a direct contribution from the Friends of the Waukesha Public Library is the purchase of 10 wireless laptop computers for people to use throughout the library.
Helping keep the library up to date on its technology is a goal for the organization, Church said.
The group also recently provided new furniture in the library's Teen Zone, helps fund various children's programs as well as the public art in the library, and provides seed money for new library collections. Its members are also active in assisting the library in the Waukesha Reads community-wide reading program.
"They add and support little details of the library," Lynch said. "They add that special touch and complement what we do."
Finding new Friends
Lynch, who is on the 2013 Friends Executive Board, said there was about 350 members last year but that number has currently dipped to under 300. There's a small annual fee for members and Lynch hopes the group can increase its membership in the coming year.
While Lynch said retention can be an issue, many of its volunteers and board members have been with the organization for decades.
Church is an example.
She has been a board member since the 1990s and was a volunteer for many years before that. Since Church was spending so much time at the library after moving to the area, she decided to get involved.
"I'm a reader," Church said. "It was an outlet for me to help the library."
Many of the group's volunteers are retirees, but Church continues to encourage anyone — young and old, who wants to assist the library in various capacities — to follow her lead.
Supporters helped the library become the 2011 Wisconsin Library of the Year and aids in the library staying relevant.
"It's a great community space and really involves the entire community," Church said. "So as a group and as a library we try to grow and change with the times."