The East County branch wants to diversify use of its space.
When Chris Culp looks out of her office window at the Braden River Branch Library, she has a vision.
She sees outside reading spaces and native Florida plants, she sees a Girl Scout troop tending to a herb garden and an agent from University of Florida Extension delivering a program on water conservation to a gardener’s club.
The Braden River youth services librarian sees the future potential of the library’s currently underutilized patio and yard.
Culp was inspired during a visit to the Fruitville Public Library in Sarasota. That library has a community garden in its backyard that expands the library’s boundaries, and she’d like to see the same at her own.
“I look out the window and say, if we could just turn that into a usable space,” Culp said. “We have a patio, we have land.”
So, she’s forging ahead with a plan to create a community garden and outdoor educational space for the Braden River Library. The first step? Getting funding. Culp wants to fence in part of the library’s 5-acre lot and purchase outdoor-friendly furniture to get started. She’s gotten some estimates. A fence will cost about $5,000 and furniture around $1,000.
Once the infrastructure is in place, then the green thumb will come into play. Culp would like to have small garden areas available for community groups, as well as a sensory and butterfly garden. She hopes to connect with local gardeners clubs and master gardeners to help assist with education and also upkeep. Culp said having groups in charge of their own spaces will help maintain the space as a whole.
She is applying for some small local grants and hopes to find a community donor to assist in the purchase, with full support from both her branch supervisor, Cathy Laird, and Ava Ehde, the library system’s services manager.
“I’m 100% excited about it,” Laird said. “We’ve been toying with the idea for a while.”
Laird hopes to host more educational programs in collaboration with the University of Florida Extension Office located in Palmetto. The office offers programs, such as rain barrel water conservation, that Laird thinks would be useful for residents in East Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
Some might ask why a library needs a garden, but all three women said there is a push for libraries nationwide to diversify.
“Libraries are always changing — we’re trying to become more than a place to keep books,” Laird said. “This would be a way of expanding outside the doors.”
Ehde said the Manatee County Library System as a whole is pushing for a concept called “makers space” at each branch location.
“As the community grows we try to serve its needs,” she said.
A makers space is a place at the library, be it a room or a common area or a garden outside, that stimulates creativity and provides the resources necessary to fuel it.
“With the internet, there is so much creativity and such a need for places for people to come together and collaborate,” Ehde said.
The Central Library in downtown Bradenton already has a few of these areas, including a business incubator and a teen space. The incubator allows start-up businesses access to necessary tools, such as a conference room or even a copier, to grow. The teen space provides an area for local high schoolers to gather and create their own community.
“Even if it is a tinker space, it’s something that gives them a place to develop ideas and notions, and have resources to go alongside something, including library staff to mentor,” Ehde said. “Maybe it’s something they wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to do at their school, or at home or wherever.”
Culp’s garden concept would qualify as a makers space and it would be the first library in the county system to have a community garden.
“What Chris is doing is really fun and a great direction to take,” Ehde said. “I think a community garden – it’s a learning space. For folks with their own space in their garden, they can come together and teach each others who don’t have one.”