It is our nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, home to more than 168 million items spread out over three grand buildings on Capitol Hill. And yet the Library of Congress is surprisingly understated when it comes to publicity and fundraising.
Hillsborough resident Greg Ryan is working to spread the word.
Just over a year ago, Ryan was appointed by Congress to serve on the Library’s Trust Fund Board, which primarily oversees donations and endowments to the institution. In February, he and his wife Martha hosted the first prominent Bay Area-based fundraising event for the Library since it was founded in 1800—and he hopes the event will be the first of many to help raise funds and awareness of this incredible national resource.
“I first visited the Library when I was about 15,” recalls Ryan, a senior vice president and investment counselor at Capital Group in San Francisco. “My father was an English professor, so books were a big part of our family. It’s a stunning building, and it’s truly ‘America’s library,’ but so many people don’t know very much about it.”
The February 1 event at Ryan’s home was a step toward changing that. The 65-person guest list included well-known Bay Area philanthropists, business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and cultural ambassadors. It was co-hosted by Dick Fredericks, a San Francisco-based fellow member of the Trust Fund Board and the former Ambassador to Switzerland under President Clinton, as well as his wife Stephanie. (Fredericks’ involvement with the Library was what led to Ryan’s own appointment, the latter gentleman notes; the two are workout buddies who share stories of their business dealings and hobbies during exercise sessions.)
Speakers at the gathering included current Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American to hold the post, and David Rubenstein, the Washington-based private equity legend and president of the Library of Congress’ fundraising arm, the James Madison Council.
The Library of Congress’ crucial role in preserving and illuminating our history as a nation of immigrants was well illustrated at the event when several generations of the Wojcicki family who were in attendance were presented with a surprise honor. The Wojcicki name has become synonymous with leading-edge tech innovation (Susan Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube, while her sister Anne is founder of genetic testing company 23andMe—just to highlight two examples), but the gift they received traced back to the family’s Polish roots; patriarch Stanley Wojcicki, who attended the party, fled Poland with his mother and brother at age 12 when the communists came into power.
Stanley’s mother Janina later worked for the Library of Congress for nearly four decades, helping amass the largest collection of Polish material in the United States. The family members who attended last month’s event were presented with a book containing copies of many of the documents the late Janina helped source.
Ryan reports that many of the guests have joined the James Madison Council in the weeks following the party. He says he would like to see similarly intimate, information-packed gatherings take place across the country to help call attention to the Library and its invaluable collections and services. “Everyone should be using the Library, whether it’s going on the website to research a report for school or visiting one of the major exhibits like the one right now on Rosa Parks,” he says. “You may go for one thing but end up discovering something else truly amazing.”