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Issue 627

02/14/2013 at 4:42pm

New Library EntranceOur New Library:
A Community Treasure

Our libraries are valuable centers of education, learning and enrichment for people of all ages. Today's libraries are about much more than books.

- Jodi Rell

Libraries are an enduring monument to people cooperating and sharing with each other, and are firmly rooted in our local


- Dr. Leroy Hommerding, Director, Fort Myers Beach Library

At 2755 Estero Boulevard stands a magnificent white structure, graced with a prominent tide clock and surrounded by native plants. It serves as a community resource, center for information, hub of learning, source of refuge and relaxation, and gathering place: the new Fort Myers Beach Library (FMBL).

The fruit of over 8 years of planning and hard work, guided by impassioned library and Fort Myers Beach advocate, Dr. Leroy Hommerding, this treasure that is our new library officially opened in October 2012, and came into full use on January 14, 2013. The FMBL is already drawing acclaim – from residents and visitors alike – for its beauty, open and functional spaces, environmentally sensitive and efficient design, and for reflecting so intuitively its community and surrounding area.

At the February public meeting of the Estero Island Historic Society on February 11, in the Library’s spacious Community Room, Library Director Hommerding waxed enthusiastic about the importance of libraries, the history of the Fort Myers Beach Library, features of our new facility and some glimpses into its future.

Dr. Hommerding has been Library Director since 2000, hired after the retirement of longtime Library Director Jayne Coles (who had served since 1975).

If you have not yet entered this "beautiful gem,” as the Island Sand Paper termed it, plan to visit. Take out a library card – free to Lee County residents, or $10 for a 6-month card for others – browse the Internet, take a class, hear a speaker, or relax in the peace of the Reading Room. You will be amazed at this community’s good fortune in being home to such a 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

Public libraries are essential to the fabric of American society, ever since the first such institution was founded in New Hampshire in 1843. By 1910, all U.S. states had public libraries. Today, two-thirds of American citizens have a library card, and they check out 2.5 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.

The Clem and Lucy McGee cottage at 1698 Estero Blvd. 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 - or the volunteer librarian, Marge Quigg, had to step outside.

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 FMBL became the first Free Public Library in Lee County in 1956 – even before the library in Fort Myers could claim such distinction. With great foresight, early directors decided not to join the Lee County Library System. Our library is funded by a portion of local property tax – at 37% less cost per taxpayer than if this independent library were part of the County system for the ten years (2001-2011) leading to construction.

In 1957, the library relocated to a larger cottage on Avenue A, now 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 to build a new library.

Expansion, Development . . . and Questions

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, the temporarily displaced library reopened after reconstruction doubled its original size. In 1997, a permanent addition was added after the Library Board of Directors purchased adjacent property. The expanded Library introduced computer resources, educational children's and patron programs, and much-needed additional parking.

In 2002, the FMB Library Board noted 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 the citizens wanted to see in an expanded library.By 2009, the library offered 62,600 books, 16,400 other items, a host of services, classes, technology, and gallery space, as demand continued apace.

Public input was formulated into a plan for the improvement and expansion of the library.Funds for the building project came from generous donations ($600,000), library taxes, and savings on budgeted items. The library project included necessary code updates after devastating local damage from Hurricanes Charlie and Wilma.

The cost of the new construction is close to $7,800,000 for 34,190 square feet, and the project is coming in on budget. A separate $800,000, devoted to shelving, equipment and electronic upgrades, is also on budget.

According to Sallie Seabury, President of the Library Board of Directors: "A large number of faithful volunteers have filled many of the necessary jobs that would have required considerable payments, and generous donations cover needed items.” Indeed, says Dr. Hommerding, extensive volunteer hours – over 5,000 hours in 2012 alone – have saved the cost of wages that would otherwise be needed for approximately 2.5 full-time staff.

When the economic downturn hit Florida especially hard in 2007, funds and construction were frozen for 2 years. As building restarted, some people – most of whom had never visited this library – took notice and raised questions.

Says Sallie Seabury: "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 that had been in place for 2 years.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 have tirelessly answered questions and shared documentation to demonstrate that meticulous planning and sound fiscal footing have enabled Fort Myers Beach to afford this 3-story facility.

Let’s take a look at all that the new Library brings to our community.

Ambience and Environment

Says Dr. Leroy Hommerding: "While technology plays a big role in contemporary libraries, the attractiveness of the traditional environment of quiet study and reflective learning remains an important element in our design goals. Our building must be exemplary in its environmental friendliness, must maximize the use of natural light, and minimize visual and physical barriers. It must capture the essence of life on a barrier island.”

Artwork is an integral, uplifting element in every part of the Library. Decorative Artists of Southwest Florida enlivened interior space with murals, notably the ‘window’ looking out to the Gulf of Mexico on the stairway from the first to second floors.Local artist, J.D. Burdge, filled the entire elevator shaft with an underwater sea scene that links patrons to the seashore outside while riding the glass-walled elevator. The architecture of the expansion includes waves in the ceilings and in the design of the terrazzo floor.

The FMBL is packed with environmentally sensitive features, from lighter-weight bookshelves to carpets made of mainly recycled material that will biodegrade in 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, and lighting intensity is gradated from 20% nearest the windows, to 100% in the center of a large room.

Five months were devoted to creating underground water capture and filtration, before work 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, alleviating 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.

Facilities and Services

Our small island is now home to a multi-purpose resource that would be the envy of any city. One visitor to the EIHS public meeting on February 11 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 new FMBL comprises three sections, each with its own unique look, set of functions, and flexible interior space: the Commons, Library Proper, and Classic Library.

The Library Commons on the third floor houses facilities for lectures, seminars, and a computer lab. It includes the Friends of

the Library bookstore, a café, copy center, gathering area, and Community Room. Those with their own laptops can access the Internet wirelessly in the gathering area of the Library Commons. The Community Room consists of two multi-use spaces with flexible formats, including one with theater-style seating for up to 110 people.

Seventeen large, mounted historic photos, donated by the Estero Island Historic Society, will soon grace the 3rd-floor walls, along with a historic map. The EIHS also donated 2 American flags for public library spaces, thanks to generous donations.

Staff will not be found behind desks in the new open-concept library. They are roving around the library to accompany patrons through the process of finding and using what they need.

Other FMBL 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

Literacy Tutoring for those wishing to learn English language

Large Print section on the 2nd floor – one of the state’s most extensive large-print collections, for all ages

Shell Collection, many from local shores, started by Ruth and Jeff Brame (two early settlers on the Beach), added to by many others

Public Events

Just a partial sampling from the month of February 2013 calendar of events on the Library website includes:

children’s story-time

book discussion

writing class

basic computers

knitting & needlecraft


dealing with bipolar disorder

belly dancing

personal fitness training

introduction to bonsai

apps for iPad and iPhone

Florida’s fossils

how our federal government


copyright law

Florida’s role in the Civil War

Dog Day, allowing children to share the joy of reading to a canine friend

Paradise Found

"Now that the public is experiencing the expanded and improved library, there has been almost unanimous approval of what has been done,” notes Sallie Seabury.Usage of the library increased by 20% during the expansion phase, and continues to grow. In 2012, the Library had 100,000 in-person visits and 44,000 networked visits.

Adds Dr. Leroy Hommerding: "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.”

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 notable "love, dedication, loyalty and widespread support” for our Library that has made Dr. Hommerding’s job so rewarding for 13 years, and has led our community’s pride in an exemplary public resource.

This is your library. Check it out!

Janet Sailian

A Timeline of Fort Myers Beach Library History

From the Library website.

Visit for everything Library!

1954: Ruth Healy asked the Beach Women's Club for financial assistance to establish a library.


1955: September 25, the library opened in a tiny cottage (which is still standing at 1698 Estero) with 1200 books. If more than five people were in the cottage at one time, the librarian, Marge Quigg, had to step outside.

1956: Became the first free public library in Lee County. Mrs. James Miller served as volunteer librarian for nearly 10 years.


1957: Moved into larger cottage on Avenue A.

1959: Lot purchased on Bay Road.

1960: Ground broken on May 31 for new library building, made possible through pledges of money, labor and materials, as well as the proceeds of the library's first auction. In September, Hurricane Donna hit while building was under construction. Bare walls remained standing, so loads of sand and shells were trucked in to raise the level.

1961: New building opened on July 28 with enough space for 15,000 books.

1963: Received trophy for being a semi-finalist in the Lane Bryant contest for volunteer service to the community.

1965: There was a movement to establish a county library system, but the Beach Library decided not to participate, as plans and financial structure were indefinite. On July 27, a referendum was held to establish a library tax district, as increased circulation and increased demand for services could no longer be met by fund-raisers and county assistance. Of the 977 registered freeholders, the vote was 678 for and 32 against. Emily Spencer became the first full-time professional librarian over a collection of 10,500 books and periodicals.

1970: The library doubled in size.

1972: Jayne Coles, former school librarian, was hired part-time to catalog donated books and become familiar with library procedures to take over as director when Emily Spencer retired (1975).

1974: Construction-type trailer added for technical processing.

1978: Interior refurbished and rearranged, and temporary office replaced by another permanent addition.

1990: Population and patron growth necessitates the need for more parking, so the Board approved the purchase of adjacent property.

1992: Parking lot completed, Friends of the Library financed the landscaping, and Kiwanis donates the flagpole.

1993: Construction began on new library building, with Fowler company as project manager and Gora and Magahey as architects.

1994: New building was completed on February 28.

2000: Jayne Coles retired as director. Leroy Hommerding was hired as her replacement.

2002: Adjoining land purchased for expanded parking and future building development.

2004: Library’s total holdings numbered 77,000 items, including 58,000 books, 7,400 videos, 5,200 audios. Staff numbers 10 with volunteers welcomed.

2006: Expanded parking became available on adjoining land; evaluation of building expansion needs and possibilities continued.

2008: Architects presented conceptual design for expanded library; zoning and variance hearings gave green light to proceed

2010: Library experien­ced 23% increase in number of users in past decade. Harvard Jolly Architects hired to assist in completing construction documents for expansion. Manhattan Construction hired as Project Manager.

2011: Construction begins with Groundbreaking on April 5th. Expansion is targeted for completion in March/April 2012, and Grand Opening in Fall 2012.

2012: Move into completed expansion is celebrated with Ice Cream Social in October.

2013: Full Library opening in January 2013.