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In 50 years, library grows by volumes

In its five communities, three-fourths of the residents are members of Gulf Beaches Public Library.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2000


MADEIRA BEACH -- The Gulf Beaches Public Library is celebrating its 50th anniversary Friday in a public gala of champagne punch, hors d'oeuvres, and Charlie Jones' guitar music.

"We hope a lot of people come, even if they have never visited us before. We are proud of our library," said Jan Horah, the library's director. The celebration will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the library.

The present 10,000-square-foot library has been at its 200 Municipal Drive location since 1969 and is a far cry from the first beach library established in 1949 by the Gulf Beach Woman's Club. The fledgling library was shifted from one temporary location to another until 1952, when enough books had been collected to move into a permanent home.

The first official library -- a one-room building -- was built on 140th Avenue in Madeira Beach and headed by Edyth Mariani, one of the six original book collectors. During the next 15 years, the library's operation was turned over first to the city of Madeira Beach and later to a consortium of four communities: Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, and North Redington Beach.

A federal matching grant in 1968 topped off an aggressive local fundraising campaign to build a new library. At the same time, Redington Shores was added to the list of supporting communities. Twenty years later, the library's growing collection forced another expansion, bringing the facility to its current size.

"Our library is really unique because it is a cooperative of five towns," Horah said. "We have become a very good resource for the communities and for our snowbird population."

There are more than 70,000 items, including some 4,000 videos in the library's collection. More than 3,000 books were added just last year. There is a substantial collection of large-print and audio books, as well as music CDs. The library is also known for its extensive Florida Collection of books and materials on the state's flora, fauna, and shells. Each year, the library culls its collection to make room for new books. Discarded or donated books are sold to the public or given to schools.

One unusual service the library offers its seasonal patrons is a personal e-mail service, allowing visitors to keep in touch with family and friends. The library has five computers hooked to the Internet, as well as other computers where patrons can write resumes, letters or design personal and business documents.

The library sponsors a variety of activities for patrons, including an investors group that meets every Thursday, a children's story time and travel movies for adults on Wednesdays, and hands-on computer classes in word processing. Each month, an art exhibit features local artists. During the recent tax season, AARP members have been at the library every Tuesday and Thursday to help beach residents prepare their income taxes.

"Our population doubles in the winter, and often people are lined up outside a half-hour before we open," said assistant librarian Florence Baker. "Our Internet computers are so popular, we have had to take reservations at least a day ahead."

According to Horah, 75 percent of the estimated 16,000 population of the five communities are members of the library. In its effort to serve this population, the library provides a pickup and drop-off service at the Treasure Island Recreation Center, as well as a special children's reading group at the Madeira Beach Recreation Center.

The library has been a member of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative since 1989 and often exchanges books with other cooperative members. The library's $400,000 annual budget is supported by each of the communities.

Library policy is set by a board appointed by the member city commissions. State library funds were supplemented last year by special fundraising by a support group, Friends of the Library, enabling the library to replace much of its 1970s-era furniture.

Often individual donations, such as a recent $4,000 gift from a winter resident, allow the library to add special items to its collection.

If you're interested

The Gulf Beaches Library is open six days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Satuday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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