Fifty years ago, a small group of Ventura volunteers kicked off the Ventura Friends of the Library (VFOL), a way to support the library’s outreach to the community. When they started, they had a membership of 82 and book sales totaled $470.

A half century later, that membership has grown to 300 volunteers who helped raised $33,471 in 2018. In addition, last year the group contributed $200,700 to the opening of the Hill Road branch.

To celebrate, the VFOL will begin hosting a series of activities during the year, starting with a kickoff birthday party on Saturday, March 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Ventura Avenue Adult Center, and continuing at the nearby Avenue Library later in the afternoon.

“We encourage friends and families to join us for a festive afternoon,” says VFOL President Mary Olson. “There will be plenty of birthday cake, refreshments and other surprises.”

Entertainment will include storytelling with best-selling bilingual author Amada Perez, who will read from her latest book, Nana’s Big Surprise. Noted creative artist Judee Hauer will be on hand to help children create folk art dolls from clothes pins.  

For VFOL Vice President Charles McDermott, the fact that volunteers have worked at this for five decades demonstrates their passion and dedication to the city’s library system.

“Friends of the Library has always been a labor of love by a lot of volunteers,” he explained. “I don’t think we can ever underestimate the power of volunteers who really have a love of what they’re doing.”

McDermott points out that while the group’s mission has remained constant, the library itself has changed, and its purpose extends far beyond just checking out books.

“A library is so much more than books,” he said. “It is really about people. It’s an institution that brings people together.”

The library represents the local diversity of interests, cultures and programs that encourage people to walk through a library’s doors.

“When you look at the programs that libraries promote, from young people learning how to read to older people becoming computer literate, if you look at people who are working with people on adult literacy, it’s a very moving institution,” he stated.

For author Amada Perez, who emigrated from Mexico when she was 5 years old, the library was an important part of her childhood.

“From the time I was in second grade, when I was 8 years old, was the first time I set foot in a public library in El Monte,” she recalled. “I was blown away. I couldn’t believe how many books there were and that they were free and that I could just check them out and bring them back and get new ones.”

Perez attended school before there were any bilingual programs or books. Referring to her education as “sink or swim,” she remembered that “when I was at school, I always felt like I was unimportant.”

She grew up to become an English teacher and, to address the lack of bilingual books for children, she eventually decided to write her own stories in both Spanish and English. Since 2000, she has published seven books. Her works are intended to inspire children and families to appreciate stories in a multilingual environment.

For Perez, the key to encouraging a child’s imagination begins with access to a library.

“I try to encourage children to go to the library because that’s where you can fly, that’s where you can make your dreams come true,” she said.

The second part of the celebration in the library itself includes the awarding of raffle prizes, and 50 complimentary signed copies of Perez’s book. McDermott added that the Avenue Library will be dedicating new laptop check-out computers and furniture, both made possible by funds raised by VFOL.

Dates are being considered for the other parties at E.P. Foster Library in the summer, Saticoy Library in September and a grand finale at Hill Road Library in October, featuring the popular Harmonix Singers and their artistic director, Miriam Arichea. (Catch Arichea this weekend when she performs a piano solo as part of the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra’s “World Music Gala”; see story in Music for details.)

As for the next 50 years, with a new generation now assuming leadership, McDermott believes that VFOL will remain in good hands.

“They are doing so in increasingly different ways,” he stated. “I feel confident that what has gone on for 50 years is certainly going to keep going. It’s going to go on in different guises, as we live in the 21st century and recognize that the role of the library keeps evolving.”


The Ventura Friends of the Library kickoff party takes place on Saturday, March 2, 1-3 p.m. at the Ventura Avenue Adult Center, 550 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura. For more information regarding VFOL celebrations, contact Charles McDermott at 805-320-3492, email or visit the VFOL at