Lynn Yasser, a volunteer with Friends of the Library, checks in submitted entries for the Adult Creative Writing Contest. The activity is one project championed by Friends, which promotes literacy among Tulsa County residents. Contest winners will be announced in April.
In 1957, when Friends of the Library formed in Tulsa, the downtown library was overflowing with books. At what was then the Carnegie Library, patrons couldn’t browse but instead asked a librarian to retrieve a selection.
This original library, built in 1916 at East Third Street and South Cheyenne Avenue, was one of 2,800 funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It surpassed its capacity just a few years later when the oil boom brought a huge spike in the population, including a wealthy, well-read clientele.
But it would take another four decades for Tulsa’s library system to receive funding for a new facility — the current Central Library that first opened in 1965. Historic accounts cite Friends of the Library’s advocacy as “instrumental” in passing a bond election for the modern location with a 66 percent majority.
As if finally generating support for a major library update weren’t enough, Friends also pushed for a Tulsa City-County Library System on the advice of Friends founder Lillian Norberg, known as the “First Lady of Oklahoma libraries.” She became a key campaigner in the city-county formation after visiting Sperry’s library and discovering its encyclopedias were 30 years old.
The Tulsa City-County Library officially took shape in 1962. What previously served only the city of Tulsa now provided the entire county equal access to books.
As Central Library undergoes a two-year renovation, the Friends group continues to advocate for Tulsans’ literacy. Before the renovations began, and while they continue, multiple Friends publicly advocated for updates.
Friends and its more than 700 members sponsor and lead several programs at area libraries and other locations.
First, they encourage continuing education in thought-provoking gatherings for adults. These include “Great Decisions” discussion groups about current events and the “Books Sandwiched In” series, which begins this month. It features book selections handpicked by Friends and reviewed by community members from various walks of life.
Another project is the Adult Creative Writing Contest.
“Friends want to encourage writers in Tulsa County since reading and writing go hand in hand,” says Friends liaison Gretchen Hannefield. “We have seen many budding writers become successful.”
Although anyone can check out books, Friends goes a step further to help children develop a home library. Each month, through its First Book program, Friends provides a book to 90 pre-kindergarteners at Kendall-Whittier Elementary. Many students at this school wouldn’t otherwise have books at home, Hannefield says.
Results from the 2013-14 school year revealed more than half of the school’s children at least doubled the number of books they owned, and parent-child reading time increased significantly, according to information provided by Tulsa’s Ruth G. Hardman Adult Literacy Service. Friends member Sandy Majors says the children “squeal” when they pass out the books.
This sense of joy for literature is the key message of Friends’ stated goals for a community where many still struggle to read.
Fourteen percent of Tulsa County residents (ages 16 and older) lack basic literacy skills, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003, the latest year for which data is available. That is one point higher than the national average.
As Tulsa’s first librarian Alma McGlenn noted in 1913, “A library is not a luxury, it is not for the cultured few; it is not for the scientific. It is for everybody, high and low, rich and poor, old and young.”
The Friends of the Library are certainly continuing her vision.
Friends of the Library’s “Books Sandwiched In” series begins March 2 with a review of “The Rosie Project” and continues with four additional sessions through April 6.
Each book will be reviewed during a lunchtime gathering at Oklahoma Methodist Manor, 4134 E. 31st St.
The series also will feature “A Spy Among Friends” on March 9, “All the Light We Cannot See” on March 16, “The Elephant Company” on March 23 and “What Women Want” on April 6.
Participation is free, and all are encouraged to bring a lunch. For more information, visit www.tulsalibrary.org/friends or call Gretchen Hannefield at 918-549-7408.