Fort Worth Public Library Foundation has helped expand services for 20 years

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Fort Worth Library is one of our community's most valuable assets. People of all ages rely on their public library, not only for their educational, professional and personal development but also for entertainment for them and their families.

All this is possible because access to the library's programs and services is free to Fort Worth residents with a library card.

Since the first library opened in 1901 as a service of the city, the institution has evolved into a system with 16 locations providing more than 2 million books, DVDs, CDs, online databases, computers, periodicals, government documents and microfiche. As the library has grown, so has its cost to the city, and that has created a role for the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation.

To bring public and private funding together to help support the library, community leaders led by foundation President and CEO Betsy Pepper established the group in 1993. The mission of our nonprofit organization is to provide resources that support building and infrastructure improvements, educational programming and collections of interest to the community.

Initially, the foundation addressed concerns at the Central Library. Structural flaws caused devastating leaks in the ceiling and walls that endangered the collection and the computer center. The library was also experiencing serious overcrowding of materials and patrons. By 1998, the foundation had raised almost $5 million to expand and improve the Central Library.

That campaign was the first of many projects developed to enrich the library beyond what city funds could have accomplished. The foundation has raised an additional $1.6 million to help the city fund the first-ever library master plan; an integrated computer library system; improvements in the library's collections; and renovation of the Northwest Branch, Central Library Gallery, Tandy Lecture Hall and Chappell Conference Room. The foundation also partnered with Crescent Real Estate Equities to renovate the North Side Branch.

The foundation has developed and provided more than $1 million in free programs for the library. Because data showed that 1 in 5 adults in Tarrant County was illiterate, the foundation established Priority Literacy, an adult tutoring program. Participants receive one-on-one assistance in learning to speak and read English. The program teaches the four vital language skills -- listening, reading, writing and speaking -- tailored to each learner's needs.

The foundation created Launch Pad, a college application program for area high school students. They receive assistance in choosing potential campuses, writing application essays and securing financial aid and scholarships. More than 500 students have achieved multiple college admissions.

The children's author series Dickens of a Holiday and the fundraiser Reading Rocks aim to inspire youngsters to read. Others activities sponsored or supported by the foundation include special lectures, jazz performances and films.

As the foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, a new campaign will focus on youth and teen services. The foundation plans to raise funds for the youth areas of all branches, the Early Childhood Matters Centers, systemwide programming, the youth and teen collections, and the Hazel Harvey Peace Youth Center at the Central Library.

The enhancement of library services -- whether providing technology, books, computer access or literacy programs -- is the role that the foundation will continue to play. For Fort Worth to remain a leader in workforce development and quality of life, it needs to have a literate population. And a strong public library is a crucial factor in making this possible.

Tom Turner is board chairman of the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation.

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