The Friends of The Seattle Public Library was established in 1941, the fiftieth anniversary year of the library system. The Friends’ articles of incorporation stated its activities would be securing materials beyond the command of the library budget, and sponsoring projects that would be of special service to Library users. In the ensuing decades, the Friends have found diverse and changing ways to meet those goals.
The Friends have sponsored many different programs over the years. Events popular in the 1940s, such as teas, gave way to programs serving contemporary needs, including those of underserved people. A 1949 “Treasure Chest” drive collected books for underprivileged children. In 1974 the Friends helped provide a bookmobile unit to bring programs and books to persons unable to visit a library. In 1990, Friends supported early childhood literacy by funding “Raise a Reader,” delivering to hospitals packets containing infants' books. This legacy continues on today in the form of multilingual story times and the Summer Reading Program for children.
In addition to programs, the Friends have secured many materials and services that were beyond the Library budget. Friends’ funds purchased a “radiophonograph” for the Library in 1943 and a portable public address system in 1965. More recently, they have contributed to the Library’s collection of books, movies, music and other media. The Friends have also financed staff training opportunities. While the gifts to the Library have changed over time, the constant criterion is satisfying current Library needs.
The Friends have been strong advocates of bond levies for Library needs and adequate City Council funding for Library operations and collections. Since 1983, the Friends have researched and published city council candidates’ positions on Library support. The Friends were key supporters of the successful “Libraries for All” capital campaign, which has allowed upgrades to facilities and construction of the new Central Library. In their advocacy efforts, the Friends have worked with many community, professional and neighborhood groups.
The Friends also have a proud history of providing volunteers for many Library-related activities. They helped in the Library program at the World's Fair held in Seattle in 1962. They hosted book reviews, teas, luncheons and other social gatherings. In 1975, they made telephone calls to borrowers to encourage return of overdue items. Today, the Friends provide a variety of services to local neighborhood Library branches, often in the form of programs of unique neighborhood interest.
In all these ways—sponsoring programs, supporting adequate facilities and funding for the Library, providing volunteers, and collaborating with other Library and civic groups—the Friends have helped Seattle maintain a world class, inclusive library system.