For most of her adult life, Luzanne Engh, 68, has been busy and fruitful—first as a wife and mother, then as an educator. Now retired, Engh serves as president of the Alameda Free Library Foundation board.
Engh’s efforts, along with those of many dedicated volunteers, have a great impact on library services. As city and state funding for the Alameda Free Library has been reduced, support from the Alameda Free Library Foundation and its sister organization, the Friends of the Library, have helped the library provide new, beautiful furnishings as well as materials and programs for the community.
Last week, Engh gave Patch a sneak peek of the newly renovated , which will officially reopen Tuesday, March 8. Community members are invited to the grand .
How long have you lived in Alameda? My husband and I have lived in Alameda 42 years in what was to be our starter home! We moved into our town house on Bay Farm and never moved out.
What was Bay Farm like back then? Harbor Bay was not developed yet. There was a two-lane road on and off the main island. Behind our complex, there were still farms. Before that, there were oyster beds. You had to leave Bay Farm to shop for groceries since there was no Safeway. The Bay Farm Branch library didn’t exist. When we first moved to Bay Farm, it wasn’t considered the real Alameda.
How many children do you have? We have two daughters. One daughter lives here; she’s married and has two children. My other daughter lives in Denver and also has two children. They attended Alameda schools for one year, then I got a job at Head-Royce school in Oakland so they attended there. I had a long career in a great place.
What did you do at Head-Royce? I started as a teacher and then became head of admissions. My final position was head of the lower school, which was like being a vice principal in charge of K-5. I was there for 32 years.
Help me understand the difference between the Library Board, the Friends of the Alameda Library and your group, the Alameda Free Library Foundation. The library board is an advisory board of five people appointed by the mayor. They make policies and oversee the budget.
The two not-for-profit groups that support the library programs are the Friends of the Library and the Alameda Free Library Foundation.
The Friends are a much older group. It was started in 1973 by a dedicated group of women. They work very hard to increase access to the library and raise money through the semi-annual book sales in May and October. Their funding supports the Summer Reading program, children’s and teen programs, and literacy programs. They also set aside funds to buy new furnishings. The Friends worked very hard to get the state funds and the local matching funds (Measure O) to build the new main library. Alameda was very fortunate to get the state funding. Not everybody got it.
There’s a wonderful story about Honora Murphy, who is one of the dedicated Friends volunteers. She had a disabled son who had to crawl up the stairs to the old children’s library because there was no handicapped access. And she promised him that one day there would be a library that would be accessible to him. She worked very hard to make that happen.
In 1998, the Alameda Free Library Foundation was established to create an endowment and provide long-term, additional funding for the library.
How did you get involved with the Foundation? Luise Roke, one of the founding members, kept asking me if I would be on the board and I kept saying I was working, I was too busy. When I retired in 2005, I finally said OK.
One of my goals when I retired was to give back to the community. Since I’ve lived here all this time, I’d been busy working and hadn’t had time to make any significant contributions.
Another reason I decided to serve on the board of the foundation was that my father moved to the Water’s Edge. He is an avid reader and would walk to the Bay Farm branch. The staff there became his family and knew him by name.
How large is the Foundation’s endowment? The Foundation has raised about $500,000 for its endowment fund. It’s growing. From the earnings on that fund, we make an annual gift to the library, which Jane [Chisaki, the Director] uses as she sees fit. For the past two years, we’ve had the concert series Live at the Library. That raises about $10,000 each year, half of which goes to the endowment and half as a direct gift to the library.
What does that annual gift pay for? When the Foundation was first founded, we were asked to help buy some public art. Recently, we sponsored a free concert for children. The San Francisco Opera Guild came and presented The Magic Flute. We also did a fundraiser with Michael Pollan. The big need in the next couple of years is technology. The library has to replace the Integrated Library System, which runs everything including the catalog and checking books in and out. There’s not sufficient funding to pay for that. So we’ve started a technology fund to help contribute to that.
How much time do you spend as Foundation President? We meet as a board six times a year, plus there are committee meetings. And work in between. Our most time-consuming work so far has been getting the Live at the Library concerts organized.
How many people serve on the board? Right now we’re a board of nine, but we can have up to 15. We are looking for new board members, starting this fall. We’re looking for people who are committed to the library and who understand that a foundation board raises money.
How much fundraising do you do? We don’t have big programs yet for planned giving. We’ve had a couple of good-sized bequests. One of the ways people have given money is to name a chair, a shelf, the whole stack.
Can you name a bathroom? If you want to, we can make it happen! If someone will pay for it, we will name it!
What’s your favorite section of the library? Children’s. Just because I worked in elementary school. It gave me a love of children’s literature and storytelling.