Longboat and Sarasota County commissioners discussed the possibility of adding a permanent Sarasota County Library on the key.
For most Sarasota County residents, the drive to a public library takes 15 minutes or less. But for most Longboat Key residents, that drive can take 30 minutes or more.
That might soon change because after more than 60 years of a private subscription-based service, Longboat and Sarasota County commissioners are talking about expanding the county’s library service to Longboat Key.
In 1957, a group of women founded the Longboat Library with a collection of 1,200 books. Currently, it runs on a membership fee, which varies between $25-$40 based on how much borrowing a person does in a year.
At a joint meeting Feb. 26, commissioners preliminarily discussed what it would take to add a county library on Longboat and whether those services would extend to both Sarasota County and Manatee County residents.
Sarasota County offers a digital kiosk at the Longboat Library that allows county library card holders to download digital materials without visiting a library on the mainland. However, there is not a system to get books or access to full library services on Longboat.
Currently, there are approximately 1,100 Sarasota County library card holders on Longboat Key and another 700 Manatee County library card holders, so there is a need for services on the Key, said Carolyn Brown, Longboat’s support services director. “No public library services are provided directly to town residents, and the town of Longboat Key is the only municipality within Sarasota County that does not have a county library.”
Most county commissioners seemed in favor of the library and said they would look to set aside funds during the upcoming budget cycle. However, they are still unsure of what the service would look like.
Because the Longboat Library requires a fee, Sarasota County could not partner with the organization without losing state funding. Instead, it would have to partner directly with the town of Longboat Key, and volunteers from the current library could transition into a Friends of the Library group.
“I think at the end of the day, the best thing we could do for Longboat Key is to bring full library services here,” Longboat Library President Mary Baker said. “I’m committed to doing anything I can to help that.”
Some commissioners suggested taking over the lease the current Longboat Library has with the town. However, that lease ends June 15, 2021, and requires a one-year notice, so commissioners would have to let the current occupants know by June 15, 2020.
Longboat Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said he would like to see a new library fixture be considered for the proposed town center.
“It would provide a nice presence of the county library system that I think personally is overdue,” Zunz said. “I’m jealous because I see all these wonderful things happening in the county, and we want to be a part of it.”
Although many commissioners from both municipalities agreed a building would be best, they had differing opinions on whether an effort should be made to built a joint library with Manatee County.
“I would say it’s a lot messier,” County Commissioner Nancy Detert said. “Not that we don’t know them and love them and get along with their commissioners, but it just muddies the water.”
Instead, Detert suggested having one small library on the Sarasota portion of the Key and another on the Manatee portion, should Manatee leaders so choose.
Longboat Town Manager Tom Harmer said Manatee residents could still use a Sarasota library because the county already has a system in place — Manatee residents can register as reciprocal borrowers for free — and that system could be enacted in any future Longboat building.
Aside from putting a permanent building in place, leaders discussed a possible system that would function like an Amazon package service. Library holders could pick out which materials they want online and then be given a unique code to pick them up from a locker on Longboat.