Our Storied History

The Omaha Public Library Foundation was founded in 1985 to raise $1 million to computerize library circulation and to underwrite other major projects that city funding would not cover.

Omaha Library Board President Eileen Wirth announced plans to establish the foundation immediately after she was elected president in 1984. Seven years earlier, she, Barbara Bock Mavis and Paula Scott had formed the “Ad Hoc Committee of Three Representing No One But Ourselves” to explore the benefits of creating a foundation. They began trying to persuade Omaha Public Library officials to do so while simultaneously working to expand community volunteerism for the library.

With the help of additional key volunteers such as Merrilee Miller, they reorganized and expanded the Friends of the Library and persuaded the Junior League of Omaha to create the Library Project to promote volunteerism for the Library.

When the Omaha Public Library Board of Trustees voted to approve the Omaha Public Library Foundation in late 1984, attorney Milton R. Abrahams, Omaha’s most distinguished volunteer library leader, became president and donated $50,000. Wirth became vice president. Mavis became the volunteer executive director, a position she held without pay for eight years. 

Over the years, these special drives have resulted in donations of more than $10 million to Omaha Public Library through ongoing fundraising, grant writing, and planned giving.

Some of our proudest moments include:

  • Computerizing the library’s card catalog;

  • Creating teen centers at Charles B. Washington Branch and the South Omaha Library;

  • Expanding and strengthening the children’s collection through Books for Kids drives;

  • Purchasing Kid’s Connection public access computers at every branch for children to complete school work and for adults to apply for jobs online;

  • Writing numerous grants for the library that have resulted in notable gifts such as $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for public use computers;

  • Underwriting the annual Summer Reading Program and other programs such as Baby Reads;

  • Fundraising for library projects through the newsletter, annual giving campaigns, and memorial gifts; and

  • Creating the Sustaining Patron program under which major donors agree to contribute
    $1,000 or more annually.