Friends History

Providing Continuous Library Support Since 1959

Letter from Carl Sandburg

Letter from Carl Sandburg to Friends of the Library, 1940.
KPL Local History collection

The first group calling itself the Friends of the Kalamazoo Public Library was organized at the May 7, 1937 meeting of the American Association of University Women. The meeting was devoted entirely to the library, and consisted of short speeches by representatives of the education, business, and other communities on their relationship to the library.

The primary mission of this first Friends group was “to inform the public of the resources, services, and possibilities of the library, and to stimulate the gifts of books, magazines, desirable collections, endowments, and bequests.”

Little is known about this pioneer Friends’ group after 1944.

Current Organization

In 1959, fifteen local citizens joined together to encourage more use of the Kalamazoo Public Library. They wanted to give the library more community support and to encourage its future development. The officers wrote a constitution and bylaws and held regular meetings. The Friends group traces itself back to this organizing effort.

Nonprofit Status

Friends of the Library, June 1970

Friends of the Library 1970 John Bright, Mrs. John Kehoe and Mrs. William Carpenter
Kalamazoo Gazette, 05/24/1970, 019:1

In 1965 this group with a membership of 39 applied for and was granted 501c(3) status as a non-profit corporation. Since then donations either in cash or in goods such as books and media have been tax deductible.

Sidewalk Sales and More

In the years that followed, the Friends were an active, dedicated and energetic group. Two or three times each year, Friends members (with the help of volunteers) would host used book sales in the library lobby, auditorium or on the sidewalk in front of the building. These sales raised nearly $8,000 each year for the benefit of the library - a long-standing tradition, which continues today. In fact, you can still buy a used book at the semi-annual Friends Sidewalk Sale for just 10¢.

During these years the Friends were very involved with many library sponsored events and in generating voter support for library millage elections. In the early 1980’s the Friends joined FOLUSA, a new national association of Friends of the Library organizations.

First Bookstore

Prange Building

Prange Building, Rose Street
Photo: Thomas Pagel 

During the 1996 library renovation, the Friends rented a small street-level shop in the Prange Building just across from the library on Rose Street. On Fridays and Saturdays a few loyal volunteers sold used books donated by the community and also discards from the library. The Friends Bookstore was born!

A Permanent Home

When Central Library reopened in 1998, the Friends Bookstore was moved to its present home on the lower level. With room to expand, more items were added, store hours were increased, and the need for more volunteers grew. Two part-time employees were hired to coordinate what had become a very complex operation.

Friends Today

In 2009, Friends of the Kalamazoo Public Library celebrated its 50th anniversary. For more than five decades, the Friends have encouraged reading and literacy by underwriting library sponsored reading outreach programs and by operating the Friends Bookstore year-round as a source of affordable reading for everyone. With 320 members and 45 active volunteers, the Friends today are stronger than ever.