Lawrence library Friends & Foundation planning far out celebration for 50 years of volunteers

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Angela Hyde is ready to boogie. She’s booked a sitter and bought an outfit: a pair of bell-bottom jeans and a loud ‘70s shirt. 

Hyde, program coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library Friends and Foundation (LPLFF), is attending The Book of Love: A Very ’70s Prom, coming up Friday night at Venue 1235. 

The event is a celebration of the LPLFF’s 50th anniversary. Registration is available here.

The Book of Love: A Very 70s Prom

7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28 at Venue 1235, 1235 N. Third St. in Lawrence

Registration is available at this link.

“We’re going to have literary-themed drinks, and lots of snacks and all kinds of fun stuff,” Hyde said. “Costumes are not required, but I love any chance to dress up.” 

Designed to celebrate 50 years of Friends and Foundation, formerly known as Friends, the ’70s prom is the concluding event for Booktoberfest.

DJs Jon Harrison and Cyrus D will be playing ’70s hits. And patrons can dance under a disco ball’s shimmer. 

Origin story 

A group of Lawrencians started Friends in 1972. Among them was Mary Burchill, a now-retired librarian at the KU Law Library. At first, they called the group the Carnegie Association of the Lawrence Library. 

“We thought we were so clever because that would make the acronym CALL,” Burchill said. 

Mary Burchill, in the 1980s

Group members set out a barrel in the library lobby, asking patrons to donate their used books. 

“Well, people began to put their books in there and it was kind of astounding that it would work,” Burchill said. 

The first sale netted $1,700, or almost $12,000 when adjusted for inflation today. The sales were a success in subsequent years, but volunteers faced obstacles. 

“After you sorted the books, you couldn’t leave them where you sorted them because there just wasn’t space so you took them out into this garage,” Burchill said. “It was decided at some point, I’m thinking around the mid ‘80s … we needed more selling space.”

Friends decided to put up a tent to accommodate the thousands of books they were selling. 

“And when that tent went up, people in the community knew that the sale was going to be pretty soon. It was a really good advertisement,” Burchill said. 

Book dealers would travel to Lawrence to stock up on products for their stores. 

“They would find a good selection of books and then they could resell them,” Hyde said. “Now this was before eBay and Amazon, so they were selling them out of brick-and-mortar stores. And we would sell — to one book dealer, we’d sell $700 and $800 worth of books. Each book was priced separately, which was a lot of work.” 

The book sales took place every year without a hitch until September 2013. That year, a person who’d dropped off a big batch of books came back and reported a bedbug infestation. That sale was canceled. Book collecting was halted, and the books already gathered were isolated for about a year. 

“That led to our procedure now,” Burchill said. “Every book that comes in, we look through it, we put it in a bin and keep it shut up until we can look through each one and make sure there’s nothing living in it. And if there is, we recycle it right away.” 

A few years ago, Friends members adopted an easy-pricing system, Burchill said. Initially, volunteers would examine and individually sticker-price every book. With thousands of books coming into the library weekly, that method became unwieldy. 

Now the books are priced by type: $2 for hardcovers and audio books, and $1 for most everything else. 

“Believe me, that was a real decision because you thought maybe you’re gonna lose money on this. How do you know?” Burchill said. “But they never lost a thing.” 

In 2020, Friends merged with LPL Foundation, which was a similar nonprofit that emerged in 1996 using the same space and leaning on the same donors and volunteers.

“I usually joke that we were living together and now we got married,” Hyde said. “The library uses Friends funds as a checking account … and the Foundation has their endowed funds and their grant funds for the future. Now we’ve got a checking and a savings working together and we’re not duplicating our efforts.” 

Collectively, LPLFF donated $441,000 to the library in 2021. Most of that went into savings, but LPLFF provides $100,000 for library programming annually. The money raised funds the Summer Reading program, Read Across Lawrence, Dottie Outreach Service, and other activities and programs. 

“We kind of write the library check,” Hyde said. “We trust our librarians (who) are amazing. And we just kind of say, ‘Here. Use this for whatever programs and services you’ve got on the burner.’”

Volunteer-driven 

More than 200 people volunteer for LPLFF yearly. Volunteers invested more than 7,500 hours into the nonprofit in 2021. 

“What is so impressive to me is the number of volunteers that have made this whole thing work,” Burchill said. 

Excluding Hyde, everyone who raises money for Friends and Foundation is a volunteer.

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“We really take pride in our organization because there’s some Friends’ sales that are just rows and rows of unorganized books, and that’s just kind of overwhelming,” Hyde said. “No one wants that shopping experience. So we subcategorize our sections and alphabetize sometimes, and we’ve got a great group of volunteers that really take ownership of each section and make it look nice.”

Everyone in the community is invited to don some ’70s wear and celebrate the thousands of volunteers that have kept LPLFF going through the years.

“What I really was hoping for this prom is that anybody who had a disappointing prom experience for any reason whatsoever could come and enjoy being around other bookish folks and celebrate the library and celebrate the Friends and Foundation and celebrate themselves by being a little bit flirty,” said Polli Kenn, readers’ services coordinator. 

The event is free, and there will be a cash bar featuring book-themed drinks such as the Book Worm and the Meet Cute. 

“We’re encouraging people to either come in ’70s attire or come in prom attire or ‘70s-prom attire, but honestly, we don’t care at all if people dress up,” Kenn said. “Just come. It’s gonna be fun.” 

In addition to attending the Friends and Foundation book sales, people can book an appointment to shop the stacks. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, 20 spots remained open for registration to attend Friday’s event.

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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