A few library staffers from the Bridges Library System attended a program session on memory cafés at the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference held in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The conference program was titled ‘Memory cafés: support groups with a social twist.’ It was jointly presented by Nicole Hardina-Wilhelm, Assistant Director, Neenah Public Library; Betty Lefevre-Hill, MSE, and Fox Valley Memory Project Program Coordinator; Dr. Susan H. McFadden, Professor of Psychology, UW-Oshkosh; and John McFadden, Chaplain, Memory Care Unit, Appleton Health Center. The librarians from the Bridges Library System who attended the program thought that this was something that could be implemented in the area we serve. The concept of memory cafés was then shared with the member library staff.


A year later, Bridges Library System asked Nicole Hardina-Wilhelm from the Neenah Public Library to provide an overview of memory cafés in libraries. Approximately 20 people were in attendance ranging from local ministry group members, Alzheimer’s Association staff, and care couples living with dementia. A few others joined Nicole at the front of the room to talk about memory loss and how memory cafés have a positive impact on people’s lives. Nicole encouraged the libraries to attend a memory café.

Several library staff who attended the information session wanted to see a memory café in action, especially one held in a library. Nicole invited the Bridges Library Staff to attend the memory café at Neenah Public Library and the staff took her up on her offer. The group of library staff visited the Neenah Public Library in July. At arrival, the following was observed: greeter at the main entrance directing guests to the program room, greeter at the program room door, registration table with name tags, refreshments, informational table, health care professional, peer greeters, volunteer, and a library staff member. In addition, there was a feeling of being welcomed and encouragement to just be yourself. It was a special program with live polka music that included a lot of toe tapping, singing, and a bit of dancing! The library staff who visited the Neenah Public Library memory café were even more interested in exploring the idea of offering memory cafés at their libraries.

Interested library staff got together shortly after the library field trip to discuss the perceived need in the community for serving those with memory loss and their care partners. There were four libraries in particular that had a strong interest in moving forward. Those libraries included: Hartland, Pewaukee, Delafield and Town Hall in North Lake. Due to the proximity of the local libraries, this group formed and named itself the Lake Country Libraries Memory Project. 


The Lake Country Libraries Memory Project set their memory café schedule for 2015 to host cafés on the first Friday of each month from 10:30am-Noon. Each library to take turns hosting a cafe twice, and then it moves to the next location. Library staff from the previously hosting library do their best to attend the cafe that follows theirs. Why is that? It helps to offer consistency to the participants and support to the partnering libraries. The libraries that are part of the Lake Country group share a logo, brochure, registration information, and general program supplies. This group has a 3’ x 6’ vinyl banner that rotates among the libraries and is placed inside or out of the library to promote the memory cafés. This group created and helps maintain the website www.librarymemoryproject.org

Partway through the year, a few other libraries in the Bridges Library System started taking notice. They asked if they could come to a memory café and observe. Observe? No. Participate? Yes. All participants, volunteers, and memory café facilitators wear the same style of name tag and sit at the tables with each other. A number of library staff visited the library memory cafés in 2015 and before long, there was a new group of libraries eager to form their own memory project group.


The Four Points Library Memory Project was formed and began offering memory cafés in 2016 on the 3rd Tuesday of the month from 2:00-3:30 pm. The libraries in the Four Points group include Muskego, New Berlin, Hales Corners, and Franklin. Again, each library hosted a memory café twice at its location and then it rotated to the next library.

The Lake Country group continued to offer memory cafés and also helped mentor the Four Points group.

In May, the Bridges Library System was notified by the Alzheimer’s Association that it was nominated and would be winning the Organization of the Year award by the Alzheimer’s Association – Wisconsin Network. Angela Meyers, Coordinator of Special Services for the Bridges Library System, attended the awards ceremony and accepted the award.

In April, the Bridges Library System was notified that it was awarded a two-year Public Awareness of Memory Cafés grant by Bader Philanthropies, Inc. Beth Savagian of Pewaukee Public Library and Angela Meyers of the Bridges Library System got to work to develop a marketing plan that would span two years.

Mid-year there was a check-in meeting with members from all partnering libraries. One of the takeaways was that a Facebook page might be a good addition to the marketing efforts already underway. Each partnering library has the ability, if they choose, to create and share content on this page.


The two groups, Lake Country and Four Points, pooled their resources and developed a brochure for both groups. With funding from Bader Philanthropies, the brochure was professionally printed and provided to the partner libraries for distribution.

Four Points has hit its stride and Lake Country is a well-oiled machine at this time. Both cafés operate smoothly with an average attendance of 15-20 at the library memory cafés.

Another group of libraries showed interest in hosting memory cafés but this time to the west and into Washington County. The group of libraries that formed is called the Wild Plum Library Memory Project and includes Germantown, Brookfield, Elm Grove, and Menomonee Falls. Wild Plum memory cafés will be offered on the 3rd Monday of each month from 3-4:30 pm.

In late 2017, another group of libraries in Waukesha and Jefferson Counties approached the Bridges Library System to inquire about starting a memory project group. This group of three libraries is currently discussing a possible collaboration to begin in the fourth quarter 2018.


Wild Plum had its kick off on January 15, from 3-4:30 pm at the Menomonee Falls Public Library.

Starting this year, the Oconomowoc Public Library is joining the Lake Country Libraries Memory Project. The libraries involved in this grouping include Delafield, Town Hall, Oconomowoc, Pewaukee, and Hartland. Also, new this year, all cafés will rotate to a different library location on a monthly basis. This is a change from the previous schedule (2015-17) where each library hosted a café two months in a row.


New in 2019 is the addition of the Pauline Haass Public Library in Sussex to the Wild Plum Library Memory Project group. The Pauline Haass Public Library will host two memory cafés their first year – April 15 and September 15 from 3:00-4:30 pm. In addition, the Purple Springs Library Memory Project, a collaboration between Mukwonago Community Library and Alice Baker Memorial Library (Eagle) kicks off on January 24, 2019, at 9:30 am. All cafés are held at the Mukwonago Community Library and co-hosted by the Alice Baker Memorial Library. 


The Library Memory Project (LMP) members (Lake Country Memory Project, Purple Springs Memory Project, and Wild Plum Memory Project) demonstrated their ability to adapt and be creative in 2020! Planned projects were put on the shelf as we developed new ways to reach out and interact with our community while COVID prevented us from being together in person. Librarians pulled together and used innovative technology such as Zoom meetings as well as older tech like emails and even handwritten letters to stay in touch and support persons living with memory loss and their families. To make our efforts go as far as possible, the three LMP groups united as one. Among our virtual events were a book discussion, singing with a local musician, and Halloween dress up. Take and Make kits provided fun crafts to put together at home.

LMP members look forward to the time we can meet together in person. Until then, we will continue to provide fun, engaging virtual events for people with memory loss.

See our Events page


The Library Memory Project continued to offer monthly virtual memory cafes as a group effort through June. Starting in July, libraries started to offer in-person programs with precautions due to COVID. In summer, the Waukesha Memory Cafe started up as a collaboration of the Waukesha Public Library along with the former cafe that met at The Spot in Waukesha. The Waukesha Memory Cafe will meet monthly at the Waukesha Public Library or within the city of Waukesha. Starting in September, the Glacial River Library Memory Project launched in Jefferson County. The Glacial River Project includes Jefferson, Palmyra, Fort Atkinson, and Whitewater libraries. Beginning in November, the Purple Springs Library Memory Project returns with memory cafes at Mukwonago, Eagle, and Waterford libraries. Our libraries are excited to offer Family Day again this year on September 26 at the Retzer Nature Center and an in-person book discussion on October 27 at the Oconomowoc Public Library.

See our Events page


We are back to offering in-person memory cafes this year and it couldn’t feel better! We have offered a few hybrid cafes which means that we can have guests attend both virtually from their comfort of their home and in the library. We received a grant in 2021 to purchase an OWL Pro which is the technology we use to optimize the sound and video quality for a hybrid audience. Starting in March, we had a new partnership form called the Running Waters Memory Project. It includes the L.D. Fargo Public Library in Lake Mills, the Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo, and the Watertown Public Library. This group offers a rotating monthly cafe on the 3rd Tuesday of each month from 1:00-2:00 p.m. In addition to offering memory cafes, many of our memory cafe facilitators who work as librarians, are also busy recording stories for our Gathering and Sharing Stories initiative. This initiative is a partnership between the Bridges Library System and StoryCorps and is funded by Bader Philanthropies, Inc. For more information or to be contacted to have your story recorded, please visit www.bridgeslibrarysystem.org/StoryCorps


If you have general questions about hosting memory cafés in libraries, you may contact Angela Meyers at the Bridges Library System at (262) 896-8245 or ameyers[@]bridgeslibrarysystem.org. If you are interested in registering for a memory café, please call the hosting library listed on the events page for that cafe.

Updated 4/15/22