The Lawrence Public Library has received the largest private grant in its history as part of an effort to make the city a stopping place for prominent authors.
The library has received a $250,000 grant from the Lawrence-based Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation to create an annual speakers' series to bring in authors who are making news on the national or international stage.
"A gift of this magnitude is something that will put us on the map for providing great signature programming," Brad Allen, the library director, said. "We want to prove to publishers and authors that this is a town that supports reading and loves it when authors show up."
The library hopes to have the first event in the speaker series in the summer of 2014, in conjunction with the completion of the $18 million expansion of the library at Seventh and Vermont streets.
All of the events in the series, which will be named the Ross and Marianna Beach Speaker Series, will be free for the public to attend, according to Kathleen Morgan, executive director of the Lawrence Public Library Foundation.
The library currently hosts several author events during the course of a year, but they primarily have been related to local authors or regional books. The new endowment will allow the library to pay a speaker's fee of a few thousand dollars to attract higher-profile authors.
"This will take us up in into a level where we can attract authors that maybe are particularly hot," Morgan said. A committee comprised of library staff members, a representative of the Beach family and selected community members will make the decisions on which authors to invite, Morgan said.
The Beach Foundation was founded in 2001 by Ross and Marianna Beach to promote a host of philanthropic causes. Ross Beach, who was the chairman of Douglas County Bank and had oil, natural gas and multiple other business interests in Hays and Lawrence, died in 2010. Marianna Beach still lives in Lawrence.
Carrie Edwards, executive secretary of the Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation, and a granddaughter of the Beaches, said her grandparents believed strongly that a strong community must have a strong library.
"In these modern times there is less emphasis on libraries," Edwards said. "We hope that a series that brings in authors will attract people of all different groups and help keep the library strong and vital, and that will help the community prosper as well."
The grant from the foundation marks a new phase of fundraising for the library, Morgan said. The library spent more than a year raising about $1.2 million in private donations to help supplement the $18 million in public tax dollars being used to fund its expansion.
Now, the Lawrence Public Library Foundation is conducting fundraising focused more on boosting the library's program options.
"It is fabulous to build a building, but equally important is what goes on inside the building," Morgan said. "We're focusing on how we can get the resources to make the building a top-notch, special place for the community."
Possibilities for future projects are varied. Morgan said there is interest in digitizing parts of the library's more frequently used collections, such as the records used by genealogists. She said there also is a desire to create a fund to more quickly replace children's books that become worn.
Allen said he is working with donors on a project to better document Lawrence's local music scene, including creating a way for local bands to provide digital copies of their music for the library to distribute.
Allen said fundraising momentum for the library is picking up steam as work progresses on the expanded facility. He said the Beach foundation's donation was the largest sign yet of the increasing enthusiasm for the library project.
"This grant is a quintessential example of civic philanthropy that directly enriches and enhances the lives of citizens," Allen said. "I'm humbled and moved by their generosity."
Library leaders haven't yet set a date for the library to move from its temporary location at Seventh and New Hampshire streets to it expanded facility at Seventh and Vermont Streets, and recent rains have slowed progress on the project. But Allen said a move sometime in the summer of 2014 still is likely.