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History of the Friends of the Library

The Lexington Public Library, the oldest public library west of the Alleghenies, was founded in 1796 in Lexington, the seat of Fayette County, Kentucky. The library’s long and colorful history has included its transition from a subscription to a public library, and from its home in the 1905 Carnegie Library building to its 1989 Central Library facility.

 In 1966, Rabbi William J. Leffler proposed forming a Friends of the Library organization to the library’s board of trustees. The Friends organization was established in 1968 under the auspices of a community-wide steering committee, chaired by Richard S. DeCamp. Its purpose was to provide financial and tangible support to the library and to help the library become a lively center of community activity. Articles of incorporation were filed January 17, 1969, in Fayette County Court. The original officers were: Dr. Holman Hamilton, president; Edward Houlihan, vice-president; Mrs. James Rich, vice-president; Mrs. Leslie W. Morris, secretary; Forrest E. Hansen, treasurer.

 The Friends held its first book sale in 1971 on the grounds of the library, which was then housed in the Carnegie building in historic Gratz Park. The Friends sponsored Galas in 1976 and 1978 that featured an auction, rare book sale, a concert, and other entertainment. In 1977 the organization sponsored a 10-week series of town meetings, and held “Evenings With Kentucky Authors” in 1982 and 1983. In 1984 Barbara Bush, then the wife of Vice President George H. W. Bush, spoke at the Friends’ annual meeting. By 1991 the Friends of the Library had donated $55,000 to the Central Library and its branches.

 When the present Central Library building was opened in April 1989, unfinished storage space in the lower level amounting to 1,127 square feet was allocated to the Friends as a place to sort and store donated and library-discard books. This was the beginning of what was to become the Friends Book Cellar, a nonprofit used bookstore that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.

 The Book Cellar began to take shape in 1997 when 75 sections of solid maple surplus shelving from the old southside branch, which was replaced by the new Beaumont Branch, was donated to the Friends, along with carpeting. This was used to convert the storage space into an operating bookstore. Friends volunteers, using the organization’s money, provided much of the labor as the unfinished space was carpeted, painted, outfitted with shelving, and enhanced with new lighting. The original inventory numbered 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. Because the surplus inventory was so great, four-day sales were held in May and November of that year, a tradition that continues today with sales in April and October. A feature article in the Lexington Herald-Leader in August attracted customers from across Kentucky. By then, the store was operating four days a week; by 2001 it was open six days a week, Monday-Saturday, which is the current operating schedule.

 For complete information on the Friends Book Cellar in its current state, including membership levels, special discounts, and volunteer information, click here: Learn more about the Friends Book Cellar.