By welcoming its biggest-name speaker yet, the Friends Foundation of Worthington Libraries is hoping to make it known that the organization is headed in a new direction.

The foundation is a separate nonprofit organization from the library system and it works to advocate for public-library funding, provide financial support for the system and supplement its services and programs.

Next week, in conjunction with Worthington Libraries and the Columbus Metropolitan Club, the organization is bringing Dan Rather, formerly of "CBS News," "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours," to Worthington.

Rather will speak on his new book, "What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism," and will give a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at Villa Milano Banquet & Conference Center, 1630 Schrock Road in northeast Columbus.

Lisa Fuller, the Worthington Libraries' director of community engagement, said holding the event outside the local library branches gives it a different feel.

"What's nice about doing it in a venue like Villa Milano is that people have the opportunity to buy food and drinks and make an evening out of it," she said. "It makes it more of an evening out for people."

Friends Foundation president Lori Overmyer said Rather is the biggest name the group has brought to central Ohio, and she hopes it marks a new era for an organization that wants to "bring in folks who have more notoriety."

"What we made a conscious decision to do is really look at how we might be able to not only provide a really interesting and stimulating conversation and opportunity for our area, but to also raise the profile of the activities we do," she said.

Raising the profile of the foundation isn't necessarily a new goal for Overmyer and the organization. She said Books and Brews, a ticketed event that combines local beers and the library and began in 2015, started organizers thinking about nontraditional library-oriented events.

"Our shift in trying to do more things that are a little more outside the box started with Books and Brews, which has been super popular," she said. "That kind of gave us the encouragement to show that there's an opportunity to engage people in different ways and at the same time raise funds for the organization."

The evening with Rather goes much further, however, and is on pace to be the biggest event from Worthington Libraries or the Friends Foundation.

Overmyer said the group already has sold more than 700 tickets, and dinners sold out "almost immediately." She said the venue can accommodate 1,000 people, and she hopes to have a full house.

"It's beyond my wildest dreams," she said with a laugh. "I said to someone the other day that this is the first time we've done an event with the Friends where I haven't been lying awake at night worrying about whether I have to move out of town if the event flops."

Fuller said she hopes the event would help "announce" the Friends Foundation's presence "on a grander scale." She said the successful event could lead to other functions happening outside the library walls.

"We do some outreach events right now in the community and we do some different things, but I think ... especially with a big event like this, it's an opportunity for us to showcase our ability to bring people together and highlight community discussion in venues other than library," she said.

If the evening with Rather is as successful as the group hopes, Overmyer said, she could see the foundation moving in a direction that mirrors the successful results from libraries in Bexley and Westerville.

And although it might result in slightly fewer events, Overmyer said, she believes the new direction could help bring more interest to Worthington Libraries and the Friends Foundation.

"We'd like to use this as the model for 2019 to really say that perhaps instead of bringing in four lesser-known authors or more specific authors, I'd like to see us maybe use our resources for perhaps two big-picture authors," she said.

Tickets for the event with Rather are $50 for the general public and $45 for members of the Friends Foundation or Columbus Metropolitan Club.

Tickets are available at columbusmetroclub.org/event-2939211.

For more information on the library system and the Friends Foundation, go to worthingtonlibraries.org.

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