Sandra Friedman Dolnick, public libraries advocate, dies at 80

Sandra Friedman Dolnick, a Wisconsin native and public libraries pioneer who created a national network of “friends” of library groups, died Sunday, Dec. 11. She was 80.

A former member of Congregation Sinai of Fox Point, she was involved in local Jewish community activities until she moved to Philadelphia in 1988, according to her daughter, Amy Dolnick Rechner.

Sandra Friedman Dolnick

Sandra Friedman Dolnick

Dolnick began her career in the 1970s as a volunteer friend to her local library in Whitefish Bay, then as a member and eventual president of the Milwaukee Bookfellows (now the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library). Working in partnership with the American Library Association, she surveyed all known library friends groups nationwide. In 1979 she established Friends of Libraries USA, an independent organization to bring them together.

“Sandy founded Friends of Libraries U.S.A. in 1979 where it grew to a membership of approximately 3,000 Friends of Libraries groups under her guidance and direction,” said Sally Gardner Reed, executive director of United for Libraries: Association of Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations, a division of the American Library Association.

“When she retired in 2002, I took over for her and in 2009, we merged with the American Library Association and became ‘United for Libraries: Association of Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations,’” she added.

Dolnick was instrumental in securing corporate sponsorship for Friends of Libraries U.S.A. and those sponsors continue to support United for Libraries today, Gardner Reed said. Dolnick also worked with publishing houses to secure authors for various programs at the American Library Association conferences.

“Perhaps her biggest contribution, however, was creating a national network of library support groups (typically known as Friends) to enable them to share best practices and become even stronger allies on behalf of their libraries at the local level,” Gardner Reed said. She added, “her genius was in connecting them so they could share best practices. Until Sandy, each individual Friends group was inventing its own wheel.”

“She will be sorely missed by all who knew her,” Gardner Reed added.

Sandra Friedman Dolnick was born Nov. 26, 1936 in Milwaukee. A first generation American, she was brought up with a strong work ethic and sense of community service, according to Dolnick Rechner. She attended Campus School, Riverside High School and the University of Wisconsin. In 1957 she married Lee Dolnick, a young media executive, and raised four daughters while volunteering for school and local library functions.

As co-president of Bookfellows she frequently entertained celebrity authors in her suburban Milwaukee home, including Martha Stewart, Wally Amos and Garson Kanin. After her divorce from Lee Dolnick, she relocated to Philadelphia, where she remarried.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Alexander and Elizabeth Friedman, and her second husband, Richard Torbert of Philadelphia. She is survived by her brother Jack Friedman of Philadelphia, and four daughters: Randy Dolnick of Los Angeles; Barrie Dolnick Miesenboeck (Gero) of Oxford, United Kingdom; Amy Rechner (John) of Naperville, Illinois, and Carol Weber of Philadelphia, as well as two granddaughters, Elisabeth and Jane. Private services have been held.

Donations are suggested to United for Libraries or your local Library Friends organization.