In 1957, a group of women opened a library at a local storefront with 1,200 books. Today, the library has a new location and 6,000 books.
The Longboat Library isn’t one where people are told to be quiet.
That isn’t the atmosphere, library Co-President Mary Baker said. The library is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and though it is small, it has become a sort of gathering place for bibliophiles.
In 1956, a group of women who regularly exchanged books decided it was time the Key had a library. One of the women had a husband in real estate, and in 1957 he found them a site at a local storefront. They started the library with a collection of 1,200 books.
Today, the library, which moved to its Bay Isles Road location in 1972, has 6,000 books available for checkout and, at any given time, 1,200 books available for purchase. The library is run by 55 volunteers who manage all the necessary functions — ordering books, keeping records, offering assistance on computers and maintaining the building.
“It’s quite a thing because you know you just don’t retire to a place like this to start working,” said Carol McMahon, who has been a library member and volunteer since 1999. “You want to relax, play golf, do whatever, but that kind of pales after a while.”
The town built the current building 45 years ago, and the library leases the property for $10 a year. The library is an independent nonprofit organization and is not connected to the county library system.
Expenses are covered by book sales, memberships and donations.
And, though the library has come a long way since its beginning, a lot of the work is done in ways reminiscent of its early days. The library isn’t computerized and sticks with a card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System. Publicity Chairwoman Carolyn Mangel said the library has come into the computer age with the creation of its website.
The library is something that harkens to the past, McMahon said. It’s a small space and offers an antiquey appeal to patrons. It offers something Longboat wouldn’t have otherwise — access to books. There is no public library or bookstore on the Key.
“I feel like we’re fulfilling a need that a lot of people appreciate, and they find that they don’t have to drive off the Key to find a good book to read,” Baker said.
Not only is it a one-stop book shop, it brings people together.
“I love libraries, and I love it here. I’ve just met such an amazing group of people,” Baker said. “I think that’s what really keeps me coming back. I love the people who work here. They’re probably a group of people I wouldn’t have met any other way, so that’s really been the most fun for me. Plus, I love reading. That’s almost secondary to the people.”
The volunteers describe the book selection as “recreational reading” because that’s what people want when they’re on vacation, Baker said. However, they do have some reference books discussing gardening, sea life and art.
Each month, the library acquires about 25 new titles. To choose which 25 books will be added, Amy Roth, a retired school librarian in charge of ordering, reads the Library Journal and Publishers’ Weekly. She orders mostly fiction: mysteries, thrillers, historical pieces and literary works.
“It’s very difficult to select nonfiction books because the readership is so limited for those books,” Roth said. “So I try to find books that will appeal to more than just a few people, and that’s hard.”
But it’s not all easy reading for the library. It does have its challenges, from volunteers and membership to maintenance.
“I just love it here, and as the president, I just have so many great people that I work with, and I can’t say enough about the volunteers who give up so much time and energy to this little establishment,” Baker said. “It’s a pleasure to be here.”
No matter the challenges, the 55 volunteers work to keep the little library going. Even if their taste in books differs, there is a common thread — a love for reading.
“That’s not written into the bylaws,” Baker said. “But on the other hand, why would you work at a library if you didn’t like to read?”