In the fall of 1963 a friends of the library group was an idea whose time had come. Adelaide (Mrs. Daniel) Schlafly canvassed potential library supporters among members of the Women's Council and other University organizations. The response was heartening; in anticipation of future activity, donations of several hundred dollars poured in.
The spring of the following year found Henry J. Scherck, a former business executive and newly appointed special assistant to the University President Paul C. Reinert, surveying his own great-great-grandfather's accumulations of books and musing: "Wonder how many of such collections are hidden in the attics of St. Louisans, collections which might be given to the University?" Reinert responded with the idea of creating a friends of the library group that would help increase the holdings of the University libraries while promoting closer links between the University and the larger St. Louis community. Apprised of this plan, Mrs.Schlafly and her associates enthusiastically and without prodding from either Reinert or Scherck, contributed to the cause the funds they had collected.
For its first chairman the incipient Associates of the Saint Louis University Libraries sought "a book-lover who was also an executive, capable of the hard job of giving a fast start to a sizeable organization." Their choice lighted upon Julian Edison, a young vice president of Edison Brothers Stores who had recently purchased over $20,000 worth of rare books in London. Edison jumped at the chance to combine his literary avocation with his management skills and signed on to direct the Associates' effort.
By December 1, 1965, the Associates had been incorporated under the laws of the state of Missouri. The ambitious group also had a company of officers, a board of directors, and a well-defined mission. The one thing lacking was members. In order to attract those interested in books, the associates decided to present outstanding literary figures speaking at public events. For its first offering the group secured the services of noted scholar Mark Van Doren, but the question of finances now loomed large. Not only did Van Doren's fee have to be paid, but there would also be charges for publicity, invitations, and a reception following the event. The estimate cost was $2,200. An appeal went out to board members to activate their own memberships at anywhere from $10-$1000. Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Schlafly - she the redoubtable Adelaide of proto-Associates fame - became the Associates' first life members with a contribution of $1000.
The Van Doren program expenses thus ceased to be a worry, but the Associates were still not at all sure that a large number of spectators would choose to give up their time on a late Sunday afternoon for a literary program, or that any of them would decide to join their hosts as members. The Associates need not have worried. Henry Scherck exulted: "A total of 725 people jammed the second floor of Pius XII Memorial Library, with a goodly crowd staying for cocktails. And most important of all, 180 couples became members of the Associates. We were on the way!"
Meanwhile, Scherck was inspired by the Columbia University's Bancroft Prizes, which encompassed four annual monetary awards to authors in the field of history and a celebratory dinner. Scherck decided that, given the generosity of a sponsoring donor, the Associates could offer a similar award. In Roswell Messing Jr. the Associates found their angel. From 1967 to 1981 the Associates' annual prize was known as the Messing Award; the name was subsequently changed to the Saint Louis Literary Award. This event has continued to be the highlight of the Associates' year and the cornerstone of its activities. The winner, chosen by the Literary Award committee for the significance of his or her entire body of work, presents a program at Saint Louis University that is free and open to the public, while the dinner following allows Associates and friends to meet the author.
Over the years the Associates have developed other events for the enjoyment of good fellowship and the raising of funds to purchase library materials: Evenings at Home, where in the private homes of members speakers present their insights, mainly on literary topics (although there have been talks as diverse as an appreciation of the art of Italian cooking and reminiscences of personal heroism in the European Resistance during World War II.); a yearly summer party; excursions to areas of cultural and historical interest; and book sales. The Tributes Fund allows individuals to contribute "in memory of" a person or special event; a book plate is placed in a library book acknowledging the gift.
Among the especially noteworthy gifts of the Associates to the University Libraries have been the following: an important mathematical work by sixteenth century philosopher Peter Ramus, complete with extensive annotations in the author's hand; The Moore-Carpenter Recusant History Collection consisting of 5,550 books, manuscripts and pamphlets chronicling the development of English Catholicism from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries; the endowment of the Library of Contemporary Literature to provide recreational reading for students; the 40-volume set, with its periodic additions, of The Decline and Fall of the Roman World (Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt); a 40-volume English and Latin edition of the Domesday Book; and almost $50,000 to cover the purchase of hundreds of books, microfiche and microfilm items important to American studies.
In 2001 the name of the Associates of Saint Louis University Libraries was changed to Saint Louis University Library Associates.
Henry J.Scherck's "The Story of the Associates of Saint Louis University Libraries. Inc," which covers the events from the inception of the the group in 1979. "The Associates of Saint Louis University [Libraries]. Inc." by Paul W.Tredway offers a more condensed version of the Associates past through 1989. Both can be found in the Subject Files series (Series 10), Folder 0011 (History. "Narratives").