Friday Memorial Library celebrates 50th birthday


Fifty years ago, on April 16, 1963, Fritz C. Friday officially turned over a new library building to the City of New Richmond.

He presented local officials with a simple note to commemorate the moment.

"It is our pleasure at this time to turn over to the City of New Richmond the Carleton A. Friday Memorial Library."

Fritz had the building constructed in memory of his father, who had operated the Friday Canning operation in the community for many years. The 5,000-square-foot building helped the public library move from cramped quarters at a store front on Second Street.

"They were pretty desperate for additional space," said Scott Vrieze, current library director. "When they moved in here, they must have thought it would last a hundred years. Well, it's made it to half that anyway."

The city and surrounding municipalities are working toward the construction of a new facility sometime in the near future. The current Friday Memorial Library has been beyond capacity for more than 10 years, thanks to growth in the community and points beyond.

But even though much of the current focus for library boosters is on the future, Vrieze said the significance of the current facility in terms of local history is not lost.

"People have loved this building," Vrieze said. "It has served the community well, but we've just outgrown its physical limitations."

As debate about the preferred site for a new library continues, Vrieze said one option may be to add to the current structure. Even if a completely new library is built on the present site or elsewhere, Vrieze said the intention is to use some of the current library's beautiful brick or other historic items in the future facility.

"It's sort of a delicate line to walk," he said. "We want to honor the history of this building while looking to the future."

Looking back

Florence Railsback took over as library director in 1970, just seven years after the new building opened. She had big shoes to fill, replacing long-time librarian Catherine "Tody" Casey.

Railsback said she has many fond memories of the historic building and the activity that has been a part of the library's operation.

She recalled the hard work done to put an addition on the structure in 1989, called the "children's room." The effort was spearheaded by Bill McNally and it helped give the facility more modern bathrooms and much-needed storage space.

"I remember a few of us getting together to raise the money for it," she said. "We didn't rely on the city at all."

She also recalled that the St. Croix County library service also operated out of the Friday Memorial Library for many years, occupying the space that is now filled with computers, DVDs and music.

Even though the building is now 50 years old, Railsback admitted that she hopes it hangs around for many more years to come. She'd like to see the historic building preserved and added to meet the growing community's needs.

"I'd like the library to stay at its present spot," she said. "I'd hate to see it torn down, but it's not up to me. I guess that's progress."

Carmen Skifstad, who worked as a library assistant from the 1970s to the 1990s, said she enjoyed serving the public during her tenure there.

"I met a lot of interesting people and it enlarged my world," she said.

While she hasn't been involved in much of the discussion about a new library in New Richmond, Skifstad said there is no doubt that a bigger facility is needed.

"I see the need for more space," she said.

The building

Wisconsin architect John Steinmann designed the prairie style library building for the community, showing his Frank Lloyd Wright influences in the final structure. Steinmann (1914-87) designed many high schools, institutional buildings, churches and restaurants across the state and region.

"It's an interesting building," Vrieze admitted.

Even with the 1989 addition, the users of the library quickly outpaced the capacity of the structure. Vrieze sorted through some of the library's archives to find some interesting facts about the operation over the years.

In 1969, people checked out a total of 26,012 items throughout the year. In 2012, that number had grown to 254,774.

Of course, Friday Memorial Library now includes many different items in its collection that weren't even contemplated back in the 1960s. These days, video tapes, DVDs, music CDs and more are in high demand among patrons, and also books remain very popular.

"There have been substantial changes in the way libraries operate in the past 50 years," Vrieze said.

The video craze began at Friday Memorial Library in 1982 when three "beta" tapes were purchased for patrons to check out. By 1983, an additional 70 were purchased.

Another interesting fact is the library's annual budget. Vrieze said his records indicated that library expenses in the mid-1960s were about $16,000. In 2012, the total budget was $760,364.

"I attribute some of that to inflation, but we've also just grown so much," he said.

Vrieze said the library's service area includes about 21,000 people. In New Richmond alone, about 8,500 people are potential customers, compared to 1970's population of 3,707.