Users of the downtown library have issues with the facility’s parking policies. Are county officials willing to consider changes?
The Genealogical Society of Sarasota’s monthly meetings can last up to two-and-a-half hours — and that’s before you factor in the lunches many members attend afterward to continue their discussion.
As a result, the group has run into a problem at Selby Public Library.
The downtown library — the site of the Genealogical Society’s meetings and the home of a collection the organization has donated — has a two-hour time restriction in place for its parking lot.
That’s an issue not only for the society’s meetings, but also for individuals interested in learning more about genealogy on their own time.
“You don’t research and get it done in two hours,” Genealogical Society President Nancy Johnson said. “We go to a library when it opens, and we leave it when it closes.”
Johnson and other Genealogical Society members attended the Feb. 19 City Commission meeting to express their displeasure with the time restriction. Members asked city officials to consider alternative policies, such as the creation of a pass that would allow the organization’s members to park for longer than two hours.
The city, however, said it is not responsible for setting the parking rules at Selby Library. The county establishes those regulations, according to City Parking Manager Mark Lyons.
“The city only works to enforce the regulations that they’ve created,” Lyons said.
The county declined to make an official available for an interview to discuss parking policies at Selby Library. Sarabeth Kalajian, the director of Sarasota County Library and Historical Resources, issued a statement through a county spokesperson in which she said staff is aware of visitor concerns.
“The existing time limit is an effort to create equal parking opportunity for patrons who drive to the library while also serving as good neighbors to downtown businesses and residents,” Kalajian said. “Staff will continue hear those concerns related to parking and looks forward to additional discussion with the community on the topic.”
Genealogical Society members aren’t the only ones displeased with the parking rules at Selby Library. Other patrons have said the parking lot is used by people who aren’t actually visiting the library, taking advantage of the site’s proximity to the Sarasota Opera or Sarasota Farmers Market.
Elise Covino is a member of the Sarasota Fiction Writers group, which also meets at Selby Library. She said it’s becoming increasingly challenging to find a spot whenever she visits, a problem she associated with non-library patrons using the lot. It’s a point of concern for members who are forced to park farther away off-site.
“Pretty much everybody’s frustrated,” Covino said. “People come in late to the meetings because they have to circle around for 20 minutes to try to find something.”
Covino expressed displeasure with the prospect of having to walk a greater distance to her car alone at night. And Johnson said it’s a challenge for older members of the Genealogical Society to travel several blocks to get to the library from a municipal lot. Johnson said some members have said they won’t attend meetings anymore because of parking-related issues.
“We can’t have that as a society, that people can’t come because they can’t park,” Johnson said.
Johnson is working to set up a meeting with Kalajian and Selby Library Manager Brock Peoples to discuss potential solutions to the group’s problems. In the meantime, the Genealogical Society is considering its options ahead of its April meeting, including moving to a new site or paying for a shuttle to transport people to parking off-site.
As long as parking troubles persist at the library, the Genealogical Society will continue to explore the possibility of finding an alternative venue. With patrons advocating for policy changes, Johnson hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“We really want to be able to stay at Selby,” Johnson said.