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The Importance of Friends!

January 21, 2020

~ by Lisa Carter (Vice Provost for Libraries), with a special thanks to Libby Theune (Friends Administrator), for providing support for this post 

Last week, our Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries Board had their first meeting of the spring semester. At this meeting, they talked about their upcoming spring events and discussed increasing funding for both grants to Libraries and to visiting scholars. 

The Friends are generous in their support of staff development, staff travel for acquisitions, preservation work, and other purchases that move our goals forward. In recent years they provided funding for students to tackle various projects such as Yiddish cataloging at Memorial Library, creating film inventory for University Archives, updating College Library undergraduate research guides, aiding Mills Music Library with digitization, and even assisting LTG with tool development. In addition, the Friends often fund an ISIP student and a Libraries staff person to attend Rare Book School. This year, the Friends will support two staff in attending Rare Book School, doubling their usual grant allocation. 

Also during this past meeting, the Friends Grant committee reported on the visiting scholars’ program. Applications closed at the end of 2019 for the 2020-2021 year, and dozens of researchers from around the world submitted applications detailing the reasons their projects would not be complete without a visit to the UW-Madison Libraries. Only scholars who make the strongest cases for their need to access the unique holdings of UW-Madison Libraries are provided funding to offset their travel expenses. Topics vary widely and researchers hailed from as far away as Japan and Italy.

These visiting scholars provide opportunities to learn more about what is unique and special about our Libraries. One such chance is coming up as Dr. David Milne will be traveling from the United Kingdom on a Friends grant to study the Sigrid Schultz collection held by the Wisconsin Historical Society. He is writing her biography titled, Witness to Catastrophe. Schultz worked in Berlin as the Chicago Tribune’s first female chief correspondent between the world wars. She managed to interview Hitler and several other high-ranking officials without getting deported or killed. Dr. Milne will be speaking about his work at the University Club on Thursday, February 6.  Free and open to the public, this lecture-luncheon is sponsored by the Friends, in partnership with the George L. Mosse Program. At the time of this writing, there were a few spaces remaining and R.S.V.P.’s are required so reserve your space soon! 

The Friends have several other events on the calendar for 2020. Poet-artist Jen Bervin will be speaking on the envelope poems of Emily Dickinson on April 3 at 4 PM in room 126 of Memorial Library. On April 25 the Friends are partnering with the History of Cartography, Robinson Map Library, and Wisconsin Book Festival to celebrate the launching of the HOC Volume 4 “Shedding Light on Early Mapping – the 18th Century”. And in the fall the Friends are working with Special Collections to bring in Johanna Drucker, a renowned scholar, book artist, and visual theorist who documents and critiques visual language such as the alphabet in celebration of the Kohler Art Library’s 50th Anniversary. 

The Friends are careful stewards of their modest annual budget. While part of the GLS, the Friends organization is self-supporting, earning roughly one-third of their income in small-dollar increments during their biannual used book sales; the next one is April 1-4, 2020. Volunteers work all year sorting thousands of donated books, and a dedicated group of about 60 people come together to help during the sales. For the last 25 years, these activities were directed by James Dast, who has been tracking the income since he became involved. Last fall he surpassed an astonishing one million dollars, earning himself the nickname, the Million Dollar Man.   

I am grateful that our Libraries have a Friends organization filled with enthusiastic volunteers who work so hard to support our efforts. They are a diverse group of people who bring many different strengths and community connections together to provide leadership for activities that bring visibility to our work.  We thank them for their work on behalf of all the UW-Madison Libraries!