Fort Myers Beach Library, A Community Treasure

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The town of Fort Myers Beach Comprehensive Plan identifies the library as the heart of the island. Our goal is to be nothing less than the center for intellectual and cultural activity in this community.

– Dr. Leroy Hommerding, Late Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library

The magnificent white structure of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library at 2755 Estero Boulevard stands out on the landscape of this small island. Graced with a prominent tide clock and surrounded by native plants, the Beach Library serves as a community resource, center for information, hub of learning, source of inspiration and gathering place.

The fruit of over 8 years of planning and hard work, guided by the late library and Fort Myers Beach advocate, Dr. Leroy Hommerding, this latest and grandest iteration of our community library officially opened in October 2012 and came into full use on January 14, 2013. The Beach Library draws wide acclaim for its beauty, open and functional spaces, environmentally sensitive and efficient design and for reflecting the surrounding area.

Dr. Hommerding served as Library Director from 2000 until his passing on January 20, 2019. This library is his legacy to Fort Myers Beach.

If you have not yet entered this island gem, plan to visit. Sign up for a library card, browse the Internet, sit in on a class, hear a speaker or relax in the peaceful Reading Room. You will be amazed at this community’s good fortune in being home to such a vibrant resource.

How did Fort Myers Beach go from a tiny, cottage-based library with hand-made bookshelves to this functional work of art? Read on for a quick history of the Library on Fort Myers Beach.

Humble Beginnings

The first public library in the USA was founded in New Hampshire in 1843. By 1910, all states had public libraries. Today, two-thirds of American citizens have a library card and they check out some 3 billion items annually.

By the early 1950s, Fort Myers Beach had 70 students attending junior and senior high schools in Fort Myers, in addition to local children attending 2 island kindergartens and Grades 1 – 6 at the Beach School. The need for a circulating library, for kids and book-hungry adults alike, became evident.

reading room, fort myers beach, library
The Reading Room offers newspapers and magazines in a comfortable setting.

The Clem and Lucy McGee cottage at 1698 Estero Boulevard opened as the first Beach Library in 1955, thanks to an initial donation from the Beach Woman’s Club and payment of half the rent by local Realtor, Clem McGee. The tiny space (formerly Clem’s office) rented for $300 per year, and could hold no more than 5 patrons – otherwise, the volunteer librarian, Marge Quigg, had to step outside. Now a recognized historic structure, it houses the Sea Gypsy Inn office.

The first Beach Library housed 1,200 books classified by the Dewey Decimal System – most of them donated, used volumes that showed many reading “miles”. The library was staffed with volunteers for a few hours each day, a few days per week.

The Beach Library became the first Free Public Library in Lee County in 1956 – even before the library in Fort Myers could claim such distinction. Early directors decided not to join the Lee County Library System. Our library is funded by a portion of local property taxes – at 35% less cost per taxpayer than if this independent library were part of the County system.

In 1957, the library relocated to a larger cottage on Avenue A, holding a collection of 3,000 books and paying rent of $75 per month. Conditions were still crowded and parking scarce. Annual auctions raised money to buy land for a new library.

In 1960, ground was broken for a 2,600 square-foot library building on Bay Street, as the collection and demand had continued growing. In 1994, reconstruction doubled the library’s footprint. The Library Board of Directors purchased adjacent property for a permanent addition in 1997. The expanded library introduced computer resources, children’s and patron programs and much-needed additional parking.

A Modern Vision

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A portion of the undersea painting in the glass-walled elevator shaft.

In 2002, the FMB Library Board and the Library Director, Dr. Hommerding, agreed that the evolution of the Internet and growing needs of both residents and tourists, needed to be addressed. They formed library focus groups and distributed questionnaires to examine what the majority of citizens wanted to see in an expanded library.

Funds for the major building project came from generous donations ($600,000), library taxes and savings on budgeted items. Construction included necessary code updates after devastating area damage from Hurricanes Charley and Wilma.

The cost of the new structure was $7.8 million for 34,190 square feet. The project came in on budget. A separate $800,000 was devoted to shelving, equipment and electronic upgrades.

When the economic downturn hit Florida hard in 2007, funds and construction were frozen for two years. When work restarted, some people – many of whom had never visited this library – took notice and raised questions.

Said Sallie Seabury, Director of the Library Board: “In the fall of 2010, a small group of local residents appeared at Library Board meetings to insist that they knew nothing of the plans to expand and that they felt it was totally unnecessary. This was in spite of a ‘thermometer’ sign in the front of the building showing how much money had been raised for construction and how much more was needed. There was also a model of the proposed building on display in the lobby of the library, and many patrons were anxious for the new construction to begin.”

Recognizing concerns about funding an expansion in tough economic times, the Library Director, staff, Board and volunteers answered questions and shared documentation to demonstrate that meticulous planning and sound fiscal footing enabled Fort Myers Beach to afford this spectacular, three-story facility.

Dr. Hommerding noted that extensive volunteer hours – over 5,000 hours in 2012 alone – saved the cost of wages that would otherwise be needed for approximately 2.5 full-time staff. In the years since, use of this community resource has continually grown. In 2018 alone, 236 new visitors purchased temporary library cards.

fort myers beach, library
Some of the collections housed at the Beach Library. Photos by M. Layfield.

The Beach Library is packed with environmentally sensitive features, from lighter-weight bookshelves to carpets made of mainly recycled material that biodegrade in a landfill within 14 months. The carpet is laid out in “tiles” for easy removal, while floors of hollow-core concrete allow access for rewiring at minimal cost. Lighting is motion and occupancy sensitive, with lighting intensity graduated from 20% nearest the windows to 100% in the center of a large room.

Five months were devoted to creating an underground water capture and filtration system before work began on the building itself. Through the grassy swale and paving tiles, up to 7 inches of rainwater can be channeled into filters and reservoirs, then released into Matanzas Pass to alleviate ponding that used to occur after every rainstorm.

Rainwater from the rooftop fills a 10,000-gallon tank behind the building that flushes toilets. Water is stored overnight in chillers on the roof and circulated through the building for efficient ventilation and cooling. In 2016, solar power was added to the chiller system.

Artwork is an integral, uplifting element in every part of the Library. Decorative Artists of Southwest Florida enlivened interior space with murals. Local artist J.D. Burdge filled the entire elevator shaft with an underwater sea scene that links patrons to the seashore outside as they ride the glass-walled elevator. A wave pattern adorns the ceilings and the terrazzo floor. The light-filled building offers multiple views of the outdoors through huge, heat-resistant windows.

Information on the many permanent and rotating exhibits of artwork, photography, local seashells and dolls is at fmb.lib.fl.us

Facilities and Services

Our small island is home to a multi-purpose resource that would be the envy of any city. One visitor exclaimed: “I have been to libraries all over the world, in capitals including Washington, DC, and I can tell you – everything is here. Nothing a library could need is missing!”

The Beach Library comprises three sections, each with its own unique look, function and flexible interior space: the Commons, Library Proper and Classic Library.

The Wi-Fi-zone Library Commons on the third floor houses facilities for lectures, seminars and computer use. It includes the Friends of the Library bookstore, copy center, gathering area and Community Room. The multi-use Community Room can provide theater-style seating for up to 110 people.

Other services include:

  • Coded locker service allowing patrons to pick up material they have checked out, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Conference Room, boasting a rotating display by local artists
  • Copy machine on the second floor that can copy up to 11 x 17” documents
  • Doll Collection from around the world, housed in two cases by the elevator on the 2nd floor, a donation from Mrs. F. Preston Root.
  • Fax Center – send and receive
  • Interlibrary Loan Service
  • Large Print section on the 2nd floor – one of the state’s most extensive large-print collections, for all ages

 Events

Multiple events take place in the library every weekday. Check out the calendar at fmb.lib.fl.us  The next Friends of the Library book sale will be held on February 16 and 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Come purchase some new books, DVDs or other treasures and support the library.

The Estero Island Historic Society holds public presentations in the Community Room at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of November, January, February and March, with an additional presentation scheduled for Monday, April 8. Presentations are offered free of charge and open to the public.

Preschool story time is every Wednesday from 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. in the Kid’s Place. New library events include the popular Christmas in July, held for the first time in 2018.

Paradise found

The Friends of the Fort Myers Beach Library work to enhance and expand the library’s services through volunteerism and financial support. They exemplify the “love, dedication, loyalty and widespread support” for our Library that made Dr. Hommerding’s job so rewarding for 18 years, and has strengthened our community’s pride in an exemplary public resource.

Find more details about the history of the Beach Library under “About Us” at fmb.lib.fl.us And then plan a visit to your library!

 

By Janet Sailian
janetsailian@gmail.com