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History of the Friends of the Libraries

Early Attempts at a Friends Organization

Grace Wormer, Acting Director, June 1933 Annual Report

It seems that some special effort should be made to interest people in the library to the extent that they shall be desirous of adding to its collection by gifts.  Many universities and colleges are fostering an organization which they choose to call “Friends of the Library.”  The chief object of these organizations is to promote the interests of the library to which their allegiance is pledged.  Although the movement, in this particular form, is somewhat new, many libraries have profited already by the efforts and loyalty of these groups.  Would such an organization be feasible for the University of Iowa Libraries?

Hawkeye Library Notes, March-April 1944

Late in January, Dr. Ellsworth called the faculty together to interest them in a Friends of the Library organization.  Since that time considerable progress has been made, and at the last meeting, held on the evening of April 17, a constitution was adopted and two committees were appointed.  One committee will make plans for an important meeting in the near future and the other will work on plans for a magazine to be published by the organization.

The purpose of the Friends of the Library may be said to be threefold: 1, to keep contact with the alumni and hold their interest in the Library’s welfare through the medium of the magazine; 2, to keep gifts of important collections coming to this library rather than allowing them to be diverted to other libraries; and 3, to help obtain funds with which to acquire important collections.

Grace Wormer, Assistant Director, June 1946 Annual Report

The first public meeting was held on the evening of June 19, 1944, and featured an address, “Abraham Lincoln: Statesman and Logician,” delivered by Judge J.W. Bollinger of Davenport, a collector of Lincolniana.

Iowa Book Collectors’ Club

In 1952 the Libraries formed the Iowa Book Collectors’ Club. Ralph Ellsworth saw the primary purpose of the club to “provide an organization which understands the role of books and libraries in contemporary civilization and which will defend them against unwarranted attacks.  The club will give book collectors a chance to meet together; it will help locating men and women who are collectors; provide a means for encouraging interest of young people in books, and it will help college students to develop book-collecting interests while they are undergraduates.”  The club would have annual memberships, such as sustaining, contributing and life members.  It was also hoped the Libraries could subsidize a newsletter for the members.  The charter meeting was held on October 3, 1952 in conjunction with the opening of a $100,000 display of historical letters and documents.  Iowa Governor William S. Beardsley and UI President Virgil Hancher both spoke at the exhibit’s opening ceremonies.

Original Executive Board members:

  • Henry Shull, former president of state board of education, Sioux City
  • Harry Plum, professor emeritus of history, Iowa City
  • Judge T. G. Garfield, Ames
  • Hugh Bell, Ottumwa
  • E.S. Parker, state senator, Ida Grove
  • Harry J. Lytle, businessman and Lincoln collector, Davenport
  • Carroll Coleman, associate professor of typography and design, Iowa City
  • Clyde C. Walton, curator of rare books, UI Libraries, secretary of Club
  • Fred Schwengel, Scott county representative to the state legislature, Davenport, president of Club

Current Friends Organization

Late in 1963 Professors Warner J. Barnes and John Huntley suggested the beginning of a library periodical.  The Libraries’ administration felt that this would then be a good time to begin a new Friends group.  The Old Gold Development Fund Council agreed to support a Friends publication for five years after which the periodical was expected to be self-supporting.  An editorial team for Books at Iowa was formed, and the first issue of 2,000 copies was published in October 1964.  It was hoped that this publication would provide a base on which to build a strong organization of Friends.

In June of 1964, the editors and Libraries’ administrators created a Council of the Friends composed of five faculty members and five individuals from off campus, each of whom would serve a five year term.

Original Council members:

  • David Archie, editor of the Charles City Press and The Iowan, Charles City, Iowa
  • Kenneth Nebenzahl, dealer in rare books and manuscripts, Chicago, Illinois
  • Fred Schwengel, U.S. Congressman, Davenport, Iowa
  • Judge Harvey Uhlenhopp, UI College of Law 1939, Hampton, Iowa
  • Edward A. Wearin, cattleman, Red Oak, Iowa
  • Charles Gibson, Professor, History
  • John Huntley, Assistant Professor, English
  • George W. Forell, Professor, Religion
  • Howard B. Latourette, M.D., Professor, Radiology
  • Hunter Rouse, Director, Institute of Hydraulic Research
  • Ex-officio:  Dean Leslie Dunlap and Business Manager Dale Bentz

The first Council meeting was held on November 14, 1964 in the Special Collections Room in the Main Library.  The first patrons recognized were Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr. in recognition of their first edition gift of Keats’ Poems dedicated to Leigh Hunt.

At this meeting the Council also approved the holding of an annual dinner each spring, with an appropriate speaker, to which all members of the Friends would be invited.  This first annual spring dinner was held April 30, 1965, and John Huntley spoke on the topic of “Inspirations from Seventeenth-Century Writers.”

The primary role of the Friends group was seen as being a group to stimulate interest in books and libraries and to cultivate a friendship with book collectors throughout the state and nation.  The Council also hoped to sponsor traveling exhibits, speakers, and issue a newsletter (which was not accomplished until 1972).