Friends of the Library: Reading and Renovating at the Englehardt Branch

Do you enjoy visiting the Englehardt Library and taking in the view of the river? You can thank the Friends of the Library for that.

Do you like taking a break on the benches outside the library? You can also thank the Friends of the Library for that.

And do you look forward to picking up some affordable books to add to your home collection during the library book sales? Yes, you’ve got it — you can thank the Friends of the Library for that too.

The Friends of the Englehardt Library is a non-profit organization that seems to operate below most people’s radar, but they have had a tremendous impact on the Lowell branch.

“They are so dear to us,” says Madelyn Besaw, branch librarian for the teen section at the Englehardt Library. She notes that the group often steps up to help fund items that are outside the library’s normal budget, such as refreshing the teen section with new paint and furniture.

The Friends also provide gifts to librarians during National Library Week, help fund the annual patron appreciation party, have purchased new furniture and toys for the library and much more. “They’ve always got our back,” according to Besaw.

First Things First: A New Building

Charter Members of the Lowell Friends of the Library. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Englehardt Library.

The Lowell Friends of the Library initially formed as a club in 1991 to promote the use of the library and raise funds as needed. Evelyn Leeman spearheaded the group, and they quickly homed in on a specific library need: construction of a new building.

At that time, the library was housed in the Graham Building at the corner of Main and Hudson – where the Lowell Area Historical Museum is located now. While a beautiful, historic building, it had limited space and was not handicap accessible. The Friends made it their mission to raise the $1.2 million that would be needed to build a new library. In 1995, they converted from a club to a non-profit organization to assist with fundraising.

Book sales, cookie sales and ice cream sales were among the Friends’ fundraisers. And from those snowballed a community-wide effort that included students participating in fundraising drives and businesses and non-profits making donations. The site of the current Englehardt Branch was secured when Lowell Area Schools sold the land for the building to the city for $1.00.

In the end, two major gifts made the branch possible: $270,000 from the Helen Look Memorial Fund and $380,000 from Harold and Mildred Englehardt. In thanks for their generosity, the branch was renamed in honor of the Englehardts.

By 1997, the building was completed, but the work of the Friends of the Englehardt Library continued.

Beautifying the Building and Enhancing the Space

Newly repainted teen section. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Englehardt Library

Today, more than 40 people make up the Friends of the Englehardt Library, and one of them is co-president Sandy Eby.

“I got hooked in with the Bookworms group,” Eby explains. Unlike some other book clubs where participants have to provide their own copies, the Bookworms group has the book available for its members to checkout from the library. “When I retired, it was just perfect,” she says.

In the group, she connected with members of the Friends of the Library and joined herself about five years ago. Now, she helps lead the non-profit in its mission to help the library and fund extras as needed.

Among the projects funded by the Friends, Eby mentions the following:

  • Reading garden
  • Benches outside
  • Flowers near the front entrance

“Currently, one of our big projects is to help with the teens section in the library,” Eby adds.

For that, Besaw is thankful. She notes that the section currently has a rather “sad beanbag” and bench that will be replaced with new furniture thanks to money from the Friends along with a grant from the LCTV fund. Already, the Friends paid to repaint the section to a “moody purple” that Besaw says teens voted for.

“I hope [teens] will find it comfortable to hang out, do homework, and play games,” Besaw says, noting that the teen section has its own game cabinet for students to use at the library.

In addition to helping spruce up the teen section, the Friends of the Library are also working to help provide some materials for an upcoming refresh planned for the children’s Wonder Nook section.

How to Support the Friends of the Englehardt Library

The main fundraiser for the Friends of the Library is selling books, both in the library Book Nook and during book sales throughout the year.

“We make sure the Book Nook is well supplied,” Eby says. If you want to help support the mission of the Friends, you can drop off books that are clean and in good condition to the library front desk.

“Those cannot go on the library shelf,” Eby says of donations, “but it does benefit the library.” While the Friends welcomes donations from all genres, it does not accept encyclopedias, textbooks, Reader’s Digest condensed books or similar collections.

The Friends hold two large book sales during the year – one to coincide with the Riverwalk Festival and the other on the day Santa arrives in town – but they also have smaller pop-up sales during the summer concert series and other downtown events.

Of course, the best way to support the Friends of the Englehardt Library is to join them. The group holds a summer social and holiday tea, but there is no obligation to attend meetings or volunteer at book sales.

Still, you might want to. “You’re meeting a really nice group of people,” Eby says. Beyond that, you have the chance to promote literacy. And as Eby points out: reading is fun.

To learn more about the Friends of the Englehardt Library, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.


  1. Thank you for shining a light on the Friends of the Englehardt Library group, and the impact it has on the community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.