On March 16, 1931, a small group of men and women gathered in Gilman Hall on the university's Homewood campus. A regular Who's Who of Johns Hopkins and Baltimore, the evening's roll call included such familiar names as Baetjer, Goodnow, Hutzler, Passano and Welch.
The meeting had been convened not to discuss business or politics, medicine or education, but rather a shared passion, books. The occasion was the first general meeting of the Friends of the Johns Hopkins University Libraries, an organization formed just 11 days prior to stimulate interest and financial support for the university's library system. With the nation still in the throes of the Great Depression, there was concern at the time that the university would not be able to properly fund the libraries. The fledgling group felt that through a membership drive additional funds could be sought to preserve the integrity of the library and foster its improvement.
The organization was an instant success. In the first three months of its existence the group received from 169 members annual pledges amounting to $8,210.
In the group's first quarterly report, founding Friends president Heney Barton Jacobs wrote that the progress of the new organization "has been most encouraging." He continued in his report with, "The executive committee hopes to add many more members and is confident that we shall not only enhance the usefulness of the already rich collection of books in the library but also find our association together increasingly interesting and profitable."
Thousands of members later, Jacobs would undoubtedly still be encouraged.
In celebration of the Friends' 70th anniversary, the organization is sponsoring a talk by renowned author Tom Wolfe, to be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 21, in Shriver Hall, Homewood. Wolfe, author of numerous best sellers including The Electric KoolAid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, will be awarded the Johns Hopkins University President's Medal at the event, which is free and open to the public.
Since the organization's inception, the Friends have dedicated themselves to advancing and preserving what they consider one of Baltimore's greatest resources. The university libraries, rededicated in 1998 as the Sheridan Libraries, encompass the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and the Albert D. Hutzler Reading Room on the Homewood campus, the George Peabody Library at the Peabody Institute and the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen House.
Hunt Williams, current Friends president, says the mission of the organization is to provide a grass roots-level support for the university's libraries. The group currently has approximately 1,000 members, participating at various levels of support from $35 and up.
"Our members tend to be citizens of Baltimore who may or may not have a Hopkins connection but who love the intersection of book and scholarship and integrating the resources of this library system with the interest of the community," Williams says. "We have been able to survive as an organization because there are simply a large number of people in Baltimore who love books and through the Friends have been able to establish a lasting relationship with Hopkins."
Williams says the Friends help acquire general publications and support rare and otherwise unobtainable scholarly materials that the libraries' current operating budget cannot provide. In addition, the Friends support innovative projects in library technology and information sharing, such as electronic publishing, distance education and digital media.
Patrick O'Neall, director of development for the Sheridan Libraries, says the university's library system, considered one of the nation's leading research facilities, owes a large debt of gratitude to the Friends for their 70 years of service and support.
"Throughout the years, the Friends have played a very critical role in helping to build the library's collections and enhancing the interiors of the library, whether it's been through the purchase of new furniture or computer work stations," O'Neall says. "It is also through the Friends that some of the most significant individual gifts for the library have evolved."
The Friends also support outreach efforts for the Sheridan Libraries. Each year the group hosts a series of programs and lectures that are either focused on cultural issues or are related to books and literacy. These outreach events include talks and readings by published authors, and lectures by some of the leading minds of the day.
Williams said that in addition to financial support, his organization feels it has a responsibility to promote the libraries' facilities and collections as one of the community's greatest assets.
Jim Neal, dean of university libraries, says, "In my experience with groups at four other universities, I find the Friends of the Libraries at Johns Hopkins to be the most energetic and dynamic group I've ever worked with."
For more information on the Friends of the Johns Hopkins University Libraries, or to become a member, call 410-516-8327 or go to milton.mse.jhu.edu/friends/.