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Selby Library celebrates its 25th anniversary


Alyssa Rockey, outreach services supervisor, and Katie Dow, manager of programs and partnerships in front of the Pop-Up Library
Alyssa Rockey, outreach services supervisor, and Katie Dow, manager of programs and partnerships in front of the Pop-Up Library
Photo by James Peter
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Sarasota’s downtown library has grown into much more than a collection of books. 

That much was evident at the Selby Public Library’s 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 29.

Visitors didn’t even need to enter the building to see the library’s latest addition. The new, mobile pop-up library was parked outside the building and showed off its own collection of materials.

It can hold seven carts of books, with each cart holding roughly 500 books, said Katie Dow, manager of programs and partnerships.

The mobile library is also able to offer the services of a regular library, including making new library cards. 

“The goal is to reach people who may not live that close to a library,” said Dow. “We’re already getting requests to show up at community events."

She added that the pop-up will be making trips to underserved areas of the county like Longboat Key, Wellen Park and around Jacaranda Boulevard east of I-75.

While the vehicle has been in service for only about a month, the effort to bring it into the library’s offerings was years in the making, said Merab Favorite, marketing coordinator for Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources. The effort was largely donor driven and was made possible thanks to the Library Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and an anonymous donor, she said.

Inside the Selby Library, Renee di Pilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources, welcomed anniversary celebration attendees. Her remarks were followed by comments from county commissioners Mark Smith and Ron Cutsinger.

The Creation Station was open for the anniversary celebration and provided library patrons with free gifts. Commemorative buttons and coasters were produced in the Creation Station to remember the occasion.

Heather Tweed shows off the 3D printer in the Selby Library's Creation Station.
Photo by James Peter

The Creation Station offers a 3D printer, Glowforge, button maker, sewing machines and other craft areas and is open to the public and to groups. Every county library has a Creation Station, but the Selby Library’s is the largest, said Favorite.

The Creation Station is just one of the diverse offerings at the Selby that highlight the transformation of public libraries from repositories of physical materials to fully fledged community gathering spaces. 

In his special anniversary presentation on the history of the Selby Library, Joshua Goodman, manager of the Division of Historical Resources, explained that the design of the second Selby Library took this evolution into account, including an auditorium (where his lecture was given), open spaces, areas to create, gather and collaborate.

The Selby Library under construction in 1998
Courtesy of Sarasota County History Center

Although some feared prior to construction that Sarasota might outgrow the second (and current) Selby building, this is unlikely to happen thanks to that evolution, along with digital collections and the library system’s several campuses around the county, said Goodman.

The Selby is 78,000 square feet and has a physical collection of 200,000 books and other materials. But the Sarasota County Library system has a decentralized collection of 2.5 million items that can be checked out. 

That’s a far cry from the few hundred books and room in the building on the Gillespie Block that the library started with in 1907, which was soon supplanted by the Woman’s Club library that eventually gave way to the Chidsey, which served as Sarasota’s library from 1941 to 1976.

The Gillespie Block, circa 1907, home of the original library in Sarasota.
Courtesy of Sarasota County History Center

Growth and evolution were baked into the library’s history, said Goodman. 

During the life of the Chidsey Library, Sarasota County’s population grew by 748%. At the end of its life as Sarasota’s downtown library, the Chidsey was serving some 80,000 patrons. 

John and Ida Chidsey at the dedication of their namesake library in 1941.
Courtesy of Sarasota County History Center

The first Selby Library, located at 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, opened in 1976 and was 31,000 square feet, but it took fewer than 10 years for Sarasota to outgrow that building, too, said Goodman. 

Although the first Selby building was demolished, the Woman's Club building can still be seen today as part of the Florida Studio Theatre where it houses the Keating Theatre. The Chidsey building, 701 N. Tamiami, is owned by the city and currently undergoing renovations in conjunction with The Bay project for a use that remains to be determined.

It took the better part of a century, said Goodman, but when the second Selby Library opened in 1998 at a cost of $15 million, Sarasota finally had a downtown library building it was unlikely to outgrow anytime soon, as its community and digital offerings continue to grow.

 

author

James Peter

James Peter is the managing editor of the Longboat and Sarasota Observers. He has worked in journalism in a variety of newsroom roles and as a freelance writer for over a decade. Before joining the Observer, he was based in Montana and Colorado.

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