Anne O’Neill, Sue Raatikainen and Marje VonOhlsen

Anne O’Neill, Sue Raatikainen and Marje VonOhlsen hosted a holiday concert for the Friends of South Burlington Public Library in 2019.

Sue Raatikainen is a self-proclaimed library lover. When she moved to Vermont a few years ago, she naturally gravitated towards the Friends of the South Burlington Public Library, a group who organizes fundraisers and community events to support the library.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the group to cancel many of its popular events — including a cookie walk and an ice cream social last fall — Raatikainen hopes a January membership drive will remind residents about the importance of the library and existence of the Friends.

“I think nowadays, libraries are more important than ever, and not just for reading,” said Raatikainen, now vice president of the group. “Libraries are a social link in our world. It’s lovely to see people of all ages when you go inside. It’s a wonderful hub for the community.”

New Year’s Day marked the start of the group’s annual membership drive, where the Friends hope to attract new and familiar faces. With a yearly donation of $10, anyone can join the Friends and help to organize events and support the library behind the scenes. Members are also invited to exclusive social events, have first dibs at book sales and will help celebrate the opening of the new South Burlington Library building this summer.

In non-pandemic times, the South Burlington Public Library often offers cooking clubs, knitting clubs, book groups, computer classes and more.

“Librarians are such an amazing resource,” Raatikainen added. This year, she hopes to have a celebration at the opening of the new library, and to reinstate events like their book sales and winter concert series.

“I love the library, you can quote me on that,” said Julie C. DeCuypere, a fellow member who’s taken up communications and outreach for the Friends. During the pandemic, she’s seen the group’s focus shift from planning social events to supporting the library in safely delivering books to the community.

“I think not a lot of people know that there’s this separate organization which is all volunteer; we don’t receive any funding,” she said. “We’re still here; there’s still a need for members.”

Longtime member and casual historian, Myke Esposito, said she and her late husband joined the Friends of the Library to see how they could better support the community.

“I like hardcover,” said Esposito — she isn’t a Kindle hater, but she disagrees with the idea that books are dead.

Raatikainen describes Esposito as a “mover and a shaker” in the group. Since the early 2000s, Esposito helped to revise the groups bylaws, rewrite their brochure, instate regular meetings and organize numerous programs as vice president and eventual president. She also collected an informal history of the group dating back to the 70s. This year she’s taken a backseat to organizing, but she encourages residents to join the ranks.

“I’m proud to be a member of the Friends and proud we have come this far,” said Esposito. “It’s been a lot of hard work. We never had a home of our own; a place to call our own.”

This year, she is most looking forward to the grand opening of the city’s new library, where she hopes to see some of the Friends in person.

Raatikainen also hopes the new year will beckon brighter days. “We’re really looking forward to 2021 as a new beginning, in so many ways,” she said.

To join, visit the South Burlington Public Library website at southburlingtonlibrary.org/friends-of-the-library and fill out the online member application on the “About Us: Friends of the Library” page.

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