The Lexington Public Library, the oldest public library west of the Appalachians was founded in 1796 in Lexington, the county seat of Fayette County, Kentucky. In 1966 Rabbi William J. Leffler proposed forming a Friends of the Library organization to the Lexington Public Library Board of Trustees . In 1968 the Friends of the Library was formed by a community-wide steering committee, chaired by Richard S. DeCamp. It was formed to provide financial and physical support to the library and to help the library become a lively center of community activity. The first officers elected in 1968 were: President- Dr. Holman Hamilton: Vice-President-Edward Houlihan and Mrs. James Rich; Secretary- Mrs. Leslie W. Morris; Treasurer- Forrest E. Hansen. Articles of Incorporation were filed January 17, 1969 in Fayette County Court. The Friends held it’s first book sale in 1971 on the grounds of the old Carnegie building in historic Gratz Park. In 1976 and 1978 the Friends sponsored a Gala that included an auction, rare book sale, concert and entertainment. In 1977 the Friends sponsored a ten-week series of town meetings. In 1982 and 1983 the Friends held “Evenings With Kentucky Authors”. Barbara Bush spoke at the 1984 Friends’ Annual Meeting. By 1991 the Friends of the Library had donated $55,500 to the Central Library and branches. When the present Central Library opened in April 1989, 1127 square feet of unfinished storage space in the lower level was allocated to the Friends to sort and store donated and discarded books. In 1997 the Friends went to two book sales a year.
In December 1997 the new branch for the south side of Lexington opened in the Beaumont Center and the old branch was closed. Among the surplus shelving in the closed branch were approximately 75 sections of the solid maple shelving that was the original shelving in the first branch that opened in Lexington in 1972. This shelving was donated to the Friends to convert the book storage space into a bookstore. With carpet donated by the library, volunteers from the Friends, using Friends’ money, began the transformation of the unfinished space. By March the space was carpeted, painted, shelved, had new lighting, and was stocked with nearly 20,000 items, including books, magazines, audio/video tapes and records.
On March 22, 1998, the Friends Book Cellar opened for business two days a week, Sunday and Monday. On April 25, 1998 a grand opening was held. In spite of brisk sales the stock of materials was so great that four-day sales using the entire lower level were held in May and November of 1998. The store attracted more volunteers and more customers and by August the store was operating four days a week, Saturday through Tuesday. March 21, 2001 the Friends bookstore opened for business 6 days a week.
On August 7, 1998, the Herald Leader, the largest circulating newspaper in Kentucky, featured the Friends Book Cellar in a full-page spread including pictures. This publicity brought customers from all over the state.
The Friends Book Cellar offers an annual 10% discount to members of the Friends of the Lexington Public Library. In addition to this discount the members get mailings announcing events and sales. Members of the Friends are also invited to preview the books of the two annual book sales the evening before each sale.
About 50 volunteers worked 2000 hours to sort and conduct two book sales prior to the 1998 opening of the Friends Book Cellar. In 2000, 100 volunteers worked nearly 7000 hours to sort and conduct the two book sales and operate the bookstore. Volunteers are always needed. If interested, please call the Friends Book Cellar 231-5505.
Donations of new or used books, tapes, records or other materials may be made to the Friends of the Lexington Public Library at any library branch or at the Friends Book Cellar located in the lower level of the main library. For large donations, pickups may be requested by calling 231-5501.
In addition to library materials, the Friends Book Cellar offers book bags for sale in the store and at all library branches. The book bags feature the Friends Book Cellar logo. They are very popular and bag sales have exceeded our expectations.
The success story of the Friends Book Cellar would not be complete if we failed to recognize the extraordinary effort of a few very dedicated volunteers who make up the management team of the bookstore. To establish and operate an enterprise of this magnitude would not be remotely possible without these volunteers. We don’t want to mislead anyone who reads this that just any Friends group can make this happen at any library. It can only be done with strong commitment and excellent cooperation between very determined Friends and library staff.
As of March 2001, the Friends Book Cellar hired a coordinator. The coordinator will work with the bookstore committee in training and scheduling volunteers, maintaining membership records and overseeing the operations of the bookstore.