Since 1955 Sanibelites worked toward having a public library. Locals volunteered their time and raised funds to create a library on the island. Volunteers have been a mainstay throughout its history, and are an integral part today.
The first official meeting was on Tuesday, November 20, 1962, and the grand opening was April 27, 1963 at the Community House. Pressure was building in Lee County for a county-wide library system in 1963.
-From How To Start A Library Or, the First Year of the Sanibel Public Library By Betty Anholt
The location of the library moved to a couple of other locations in the mid to late ’60s. To increase to amount of children’s books, the Sanibel Library Board approached the Lee County Library Board for financial assistance, making it possible to lease larger quarters.
By 1965 the collection had grown to 4,000 volumes. It was located in a small strip center near the Community Church that was later destroyed by a tornado that struck in 1972 during Tropical Storm Agnes. In the late 1960s volunteers moved the books to a building in the 2400 area of Periwinkle Way, where the current Cottages to Castles office is located. In 1971 Florence and Gerald Martin donated land on the corner of Florence Way and Palm Ridge Road, to be used for a library.
In 1968 Bob Haynie was elected President of the Library Board, a post he retained for about 20 years. By 1970 the library had about 250 registered patrons who could use the more than 5,000 volumes in the collection.
The Sanibel Public Library Foundation was established in 1970. Fundraising efforts evolved from potluck dinners into the annual arts and crafts fair. In 1972 there was about $12,000 in the building fund. From 1972 to 1982 the fair raised more than $68,000 to the library. Local groups like Lion’s, Rotary, and Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis clubs also have donated funds for many years.
Library Way Location
The library finally settled into its own designated building on the corner of Palm Ridge Road and Florence Way in 1973. Lee County Commissioners approved $3,000 for equipment. Years later, Florence Way was renamed Library Way shortly before the new library building was established on Dunlop.
In the early 1970s the Library developed more children’s programs, weekly book reviews in the Islander newspaper, and by 1975 a small “reference room” held vertical files–many containing local history. In 1976 the “talk to tape” program recorded interviews from locals like Clarence Rutland, Belton Johnson, and Willis Combs.
By 1977 the building was bursting at the seams–again–with 8,300 volumes 1,555 library card holders, and 65 volunteers. In just a few years, circulation had grown from 5,000 per year to over 30 thousand annual “borrows.” Two additions – in 1975 and 1978, showed the need for a larger space.
In 1980 there were more than 70 volunteers serving the library– several trained in reference, to help patrons use encyclopedias, almanacs, world atlas, tax guides, and business guides like “Standard & Poor’s.” Adult fiction was popular, as well as shell and local birdwatching guidebooks.
In 1981 the board of the Sanibel Library bid to have the island’s library exempted from the Lee County tax system. Sanibel Library Board vice president George Tenney said the citizens of Sanibel were paying an excessive ad valorem tax.
Operations grew more complex, and in 1982 a trained librarian was hired, then in 1989 the first children’s librarian was hired. From 1983 to 1993 circulation doubled–from around 48,000 per year to over 100,000 annually. Groups like the Investment Club of the Islands, Committee of the Islands (COTI), and the Unitarian Universalists met in the Library in the 1980s. The AARP provided tax guidance at the library. Kid’s Reading Clubs and puppet shows welcomed younger patrons. Book discussion groups and local author programs brought more people to the library.
By 1991 the City of Sanibel Planning Committee was firming up predictions for “buildout,” on the island, and more plans were made to build a library to serve future population needs. After many attempts to purchase land, in 1992 a land swap was made, where the City would take over the property on Library Way, for the land on Dunlop – current home of the Sanibel Public Library.
In 1992 more than 2,000 Sanibel residents renewed or got a new library card. In April of 1995, staff from CROW, SCCF, the Sanibel School, plus Mayor of Sanibel, actors from The Pirate playhouse, and volunteer storytellers joined together for an evening celebrating reading and libraries, at “Night of 1,000 Stars.”
Dunlop Road Location – Built to Withstand Florida Storms
The current, contemporary building on Dunlop Road opened in 1994 after a year of construction. The Library has the distinction of being Florida’s first library constructed to withstand Category 5 (155 mph) winds. On August 12, 2004, Library Director Pat Allen and her staff readied the 10,000 square foot expansion of the library for an official opening. That morning, staff guided the delivery crew as they moved computer equipment and shelving into the new addition. By late afternoon the next day, Hurricane Charley brought fierce winds that tested the engineering of both the new expansion and the original building. Despite flying debris knocking off a few pieces of roofing material where the two buildings joined, the structures survived unscathed.
Library use continued to increase annually, hosting Sanibel Captiva Art League’s art shows, as well as offering meeting spaces for local groups. Patron use grew, and more people needed to use computers, fax machines, copiers, or printers. In 2004 the expansion project provided public access computers, a local archives room, more space for the audiovisual collection, and more parking. The Library was enhanced with dolphin and Calusa art glass by Dee and Luc Century, and photography by Charlie McCullough.
In June of 2005, after a lengthy series of negotiations at the county level, and a complex state legislative process, Governor Jeb Bush signed HB1381 to make the Sanibel Public Library independent taxing district, “a move that will lower property taxes for Sanibel residents,” said Library Board president Tom Krekel. Sanibel Public Library became a special taxing district, by local referendum.
Hurricane Wilma brought 100 mph winds to Sanibel on October 24, 2005. Again the library suffered no damage and stood ready to welcome residents back to the island.
In August of 2008 Margaret Mohundro took over as director of the Sanibel Public Library. A two-room Teen Space was added that year, and the Author Series was launched. Thanks to sponsors of the Sanibel Public Library Foundation, the Series allows Library cardholders to enjoy “an intimate evening with a bestselling author” at no charge.
In 2009 the SPL started a book discussion club for children and their parents. The book discussion group for adults was meeting monthly.
Sanibel Public Library was named one of America’s Star Libraries 2010 by The Library Journal Index. It received three stars, making Sanibel’s the only library in the state of Florida to be recognized with the highest rating Library Journal awarded.
Sanibel Public Library’s eShelf was originally funded in 2010 with a grant from the Sanibel Library Foundation, to provide bestseller eBooks and audiobooks. The following year the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club provided funds for an eBook business collection. Since 2011 the eShelf usage has grown by 20 percent every year.
From 1996 to 2014 the Library went from zero computers to over two dozen computers with a high speed internet (50 mbps) network connection.
In 2011 the Library launched its summer reading program, Reading for Others! where children read books to “earn” donated books to patients at the Children’s Hospital.Since its inception, with support from Sanibel Public Library Foundation, this annual program has helped to contribute more than 12,000 books to the hospital. New books are needed every year because books are given to patients to take home.
Sanibel Public Library Author Series
One of America’s most celebrated literary figures, Joyce Carol Oates, called the Sanibel Public Library “spectacular,” in her 2011 bestseller. A Widow’s Story: A Memoir. The author appeared in 2008 at “An Evening with Joyce Carol Oates,” the inaugural event of the (now annual) Sanibel Public Library Author Series. For more than a decade, the Library, partnering with the Sanibel Public Library Foundation, has connected local readers to award-winning authors by bringing in high caliber writers to the island. Past speakers include Sue Monk Kidd, Jodi Picoult, Lee Child, Erik Larson, Peter Bergen, Debbie Macomber, David Baldacci, Lisa Scottoline, and Margaret Atwood.
Author Series has presented multiple award winners, including:
-Four Pulitzer Prize winners (Edwin Burrows, Jennifer Egan, Robert K. Massie, Elizabeth Strout)
-National Book Award winner (Joyce Carol Oates)
-Billy Collins, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003
-Blockbuster bestsellers: Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Clive Cussler, Dennis Lehane
-Many of these author’s books have been selected for the Oprah Book Club
In 2012 a luncheon with author Sue Miller was held to benefit the SPL Foundation, which supports programs and resources of the Library. Since then, the annual Lunch with the Author has hosted more than ten critically-acclaimed authors including Chris Bohjalian, Paula McLain, Martha Hall Kelly, and Melanie Benjamin.
The Florida Weekly newspaper rated SPL the ‘Best Library’ in their 2012 ‘Best of Southwest Florida’ issue. Sanibel Public Library Foundation President Ken Nirenberg was awarded the 2013 Florida Library “Advocate of the Year” award for his support and advocacy for the Library.
In 2015 Sanibel Public Library continued to increase digital offerings on the “eShelf,” including several e-reader apps; Hoopla for downloadable eBooks, movies, music and audiobooks as well as Libby from OverDrive, for eBooks, audiobooks and magazines. The Library started offering Mango–an online language learning tool–in 2015.
In 2016 Sanibel Public Library became the first public library in the State of Florida to offer “Tech IT Out” service—a kiosk where patrons can borrow MacBook Air and Dell laptops. The Library offered the popular on-demand video streaming service Kanopy in 2017, with access to more than 30,000 documentaries, indie films and class movies. These eShelf services are offered to SPL cardholders at no extra charge. New in 2018, cardholders can download music with the Freegal app.
In planning since early 2015, the Your Library Reimagined project awarded HBM Architects — library specialists from Cleveland, Ohio — the redesign contract. The project began with the need to upgrade electric, climate control, fire suppression, plumbing and electronic infrastructure to new technology and sustainability standards.
In January of 2016 the Library hosted a series of public meetings where representatives of HBM shared trends in library design and solicited input from library patrons and stakeholders. Library staff and Board sought input to identify likes and dislikes of the Library to help guide project planning.
The Board set a budget of $5.9 million. Funding came from the Sanibel Public Library Foundation, library reserves, grants, and gifts. The project “reimagined” the layout of the space to better serve community needs.
There were a few temporary closures in summer of 2018 as crews relocated books into storage, knocked down walls, drilled through the cement flooring for digital cable updates, installed a new elevator and new stairs. Children’s programs were held in the Community House. Author Series Evening for Christina Baker Klein was held at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. Amor Towles and Mary Alice Monroe events were at the Sanibel Community House in 2018.
Construction entered phase II after the library closed for 2½ weeks in January-February of 2018. The library remained open the rest of the time, but with parts closed off and half of its collection in storage.
Stats for Your Library Reimagined renovation:
-Crews tested and retested more than 5.166 miles of data cable
-More than two miles of ductwork installed
-More than 70,000 items (mostly books) relocated
-1,182 boxes of books, DVDs, CDs moved back from storage – summer 2018
-100 large wooden book carts used in the move
-1.2 miles (linear feet) of shelving assembled, with 10,000 metal shelf pieces
-More than 40 new floor-to-ceiling windows installed
-28,000 carpet tiles
The renovation included installation of larger windows to maximize the natural light and views; four new study rooms; two computer labs with fast internet; staff offices, and an enhanced Think Tank and Teen Space. A new Archives Room includes digitization capabilities for easier scanning of photos. Most of the updates were behind the scenes, with installation of more efficient infrastructure to lower operating costs, and faster and more-stable public internet.
In 2018, for the fifth time, the Sanibel Public Library was recognized as one of the best libraries in the country by Library Journal. The America’s Star Libraries award presents an overall indication of how a library’s performance stacks up to peers, measuring computer usage, circulation, program attendance and library visits.
Sanibel’s award-winning public library earned another accolade in 2018 – TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame, for achieving its Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. The Library won the Certificate of Excellence every year from 2014 to 2020.
In April of 2019 the SPL ran a community-wide “How to Do You Library?” survey to plan for future needs of patrons. More than 400 patrons responded. Of those who responded, 92% said they have a Sanibel Public Library card. Half of the respondents reported their age as “65 or older.”
89% strongly agree “The Library is a valuable cultural resource on the island.”
79% strongly agree, and 18% agree, “The quality of library services meets or exceeds my expectations”
84% said they were “very satisfied” and 13% were “satisfied” with their library service overall.
87% said they strongly agree the Library “supports lifelong learning and literacy on the island.”
82% said they strongly agree, and 15% agree, “Staff responds to my needs in a timely manner and treats me with courtesy and respect.”
Adapting Services During the Pandemic in 2020
In April 2020, during the Governor’s ‘stay-at-home’ order, fines were waived. Library staff answered phones and email inquiries from patrons when the physical building was closed. Readers advisory and reference questions were answered via phone and email. While the building was closed 24/7/365 streaming and downloading services were available on the eShelf. The Library’s high speed WiFi was accessible in the Library’s parking areas.
Sanibel Public Library offered contactless curbside pickup for five months in response to the pandemic, and 12,000+ items were placed on hold then borrowed via curbside. The service was very popular, with about 40 to 50 bags placed outside each day for pickup.
Youth Services Librarian, Deanna Evans, posted online storytimes each week. Other Library staff created videos ranging from “How to Borrow eBooks,” to gardening, and WWII History.
New service in 2020 – loaning WiFi hotspots to patrons: Hotspots allow users to connect enabled devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) to the internet, from home or even outdoors. This initiative added to SPL’s “Library of Things” where patrons can borrow items like Cooking Kits, Birdwatching Kits, and mobile Launchpad Playaways for children.
To meet increased demand, Sanibel Public Library Foundation provided a $5,000 grant for additional eBook support in April of 2020. The grant allowed the Library to increase the number of popular fiction and nonfiction eBooks. The Library offered more than 6,000 eBooks and audiobooks via the OverDrive/Libby app in 2020. SPL continued to offer Hoopla Digital streaming service–with access to eBooks, eAudiobooks, eComics, music, movies, and TV shows, (more than a million titles).
Several new apps were added in 2020, including PressReader, which provides online access to newspapers and periodicals from around the world, like The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Baltimore Sun. Self-check out with MeeScan was encouraged.
Also launched in 2020: Brainfuse HelpNow an on-demand, anywhere, eLearning module, offering cardholders of all ages. Users can access live, online tutoring, test prep, and other skill-building resources.
FaceTime with SPL Tech Staff: live virtual coaching to help patrons use Library apps to download eBooks, or set up video streaming, and more.
Library staff adapted circulation practices during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves were used by staff. Following City of Sanibel guidelines, the Library required that everyone in the building wear masks and follow social distancing practices. Library staff quarantined all returned materials for 24-72 hours between loans. The items were isolated for 24-72 hours depending on format (print, acrylic, plastic, etc.). Half the furniture was removed so patrons would be encouraged to spread out while inside the building. Self-checkout service was encouraged, social distancing guidance floor tape was used, and public hand sanitization stations were placed at all entrances. Policies were based on best practices from CDC, and State of Florida Department of Health guidelines.
Library Archives Went Online in 2020:
Sanibel Public Library’s digital archives were scanned and are now online, so the public can search on 4,000+ images, maps, brochures, and oral history recordings. From the first homesteaders to important events in the island’s recent history, the Sanibel Public Library Digital Archive collects, preserves, and provides access to all items that are valuable to Island history. Seed development for this ongoing project is supported in part by the Roni Jo Freer Fund of the Sanibel Public Library Foundation. The library is seeking stories, photos, and videos of people and places of Sanibel and Captiva for the archives.
In 2021 Sanibel Public Library was ranked number one per capita (per 1,000) for: circulation (items borrowed); website visits per capita; availability of print, audio, video, and other material to check out; and square footage availability. Ranking was based on 2019 Florida Library Statistics, which ranks 82 public libraries/library systems in the state. More than 1,000 Library cards were issued in 2021.
Due to decades-long support from locals and visitors who value cultural activities, reading, and lifelong learning, the Sanibel Public Library earned another accolade in May of 2022 — a Fort Myers Florida Weekly Flamingo Award – for Best Library in Florida!
Announced November 2021:
State library rankings are out, and Sanibel Public Library ranks at or near the top of Florida in many areas including the amount of items to borrow in different formats – print books, audiobooks, DVDs, BluRay and music CDs; access to the new online archives; and programs for adults and children. The 2021 ratings are based on FY 2019-20 Florida Library Statistics, which measures 82 libraries/library systems in the state, grouped by population.
Sanibel was ranked number one per capita (per 1,000) for: circulation (number of books or items borrowed), availability of print, audio, video, and other material to check out, website visits per capita, and square footage availability. Sanibel Public Library has been at or near the top ranking for about 15 years. It has also won national Star Library Awards (top 200 public libraries of 9,000 measured nationally) in five of the last 10 years.
Sanibel Public Library ranks at the top in its population group, in many areas* including:
|Materials in All Formats (availability of print, audio, video)||#1|
|Website visits per capita||#1|
|Local and State Operating Revenue||#1|
|Square Footage Availability||#1|
|Library Visits per capita||#1|
Melanie Congress, Library District Board of Commissioners President, said “Executive Director Margaret Mohundro and the knowledgeable staff strive to provide the resources people need and want. During the pandemic the Library was an important resource—providing services such as curbside pickup, tech resources such as loaning WiFi hot spots, and access to online tutoring services for children to assist them with at-home learning.”
“We’re all very proud the Library continues to receive such high rankings; it is testament to the community support of the Library and highlights how often locals are using Library services and borrowing books or other material,” said Congress. The SPL was also ranked at “Top 2 to 5” for digitized library collections, programming for adults and children, and Friends/Foundation expenditures per capita.
In addition to high state rankings, the Library has won many annual Star Library awards from Library Journal. It has been #1 on TripAdvisor for “Things to Do on Sanibel” many times, and earned many TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence awards. The high ranking is due to support from the local community and visitors who value cultural activities, reading, and lifelong learning. The library can also attribute success to a publicly-elected Library Board of Commissioners who ensure budget and infrastructure are in place to support strong services; outstanding staff with customer service as its core value; the private Sanibel Public Library Foundation grant support for enhancements to the Library (such as Author Series, cutting edge technology, youth programming, volunteers, and more).
The State Library of Florida based ratings on estimates of population, University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research; Florida Department of State Division of Library and Information Services; and U.S Institute of Museum and Library Services. Other highly-ranked libraries on the list include North Miami Beach Public Library, Maitland Public Library, North Palm Beach Library, as well as Collier and Lee County Library systems.
The Sanibel Public Library collection focuses on new and bestselling fiction and nonfiction, as well as topics of particular interest to locals including mystery fiction; history; travel; lifestyle such as cooking, decorating, and gardening; health, biographies; and current events.
The Library has remained operational during the coronavirus pandemic by increasing the 24/7/365 download and streaming services, as well as providing assistance via telephone and in person.
The Library’s annual budget, including gifts and grants, is about $2.4 million. The Sanibel Public Library District is an independent special district serving Sanibel with a publicly-elected Board of seven members. The Library ranks at or near the top among all Florida public libraries for checkouts, visits, program attendance, Internet use and more; and it is regularly awarded high rankings among the 9,000-plus public library systems in America.
Sanibel Public Library has been at or near the top ranking for about 15 years. It has also won national Star Library Awards (top 200 public libraries of 9,000 measured nationally) for five of the last 10 years. The Library has been #1 on TripAdvisor for “Things to Do on Sanibel” many times, has won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence every year since 2014, earning Hall of Fame status on the site.
*The State Library of Florida based ratings on estimates of population, University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research; Florida Department of State Division of Library and Information Services; and U.S Institute of Museum and Library Services. Population Groups = Over 750,001, 8 libraries; 100,001-750,000, 30 libraries; 25,001-100,000, 25 libraries; 25,000 and under, 18 libraries. 81/88 Florida public libraries reporting.
Sanibel Public Library cards are available to all residents of Sanibel and Lee County, Florida, at no charge. Visitor library cards are available for a $10 annual fee. For more information about the Sanibel Public Library, call (239) 472-2483
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Other Awards, achievements, and accolades:
In November 2018, Sanibel Public Library was recognized for the fifth time as one of the best libraries in the country. America’s Star Libraries presents an overall indication of how a library’s performance stacks up to peers, measuring computer usage, circulation, program attendance and library visits. Library Journal also based the star rating on circulation of electronic materials. Sanibel Public Library’s eShelf was originally funded in 2010 with a grant from the Sanibel Library Foundation, to provide bestseller eBooks and audiobooks. The following year the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club provided funds for an eBook business collection. Since 2011 the eShelf usage has grown by 20 percent every year, and more than 43,000 eBooks have been checked out from 2015 to 2021, including 9,000 audiobooks.
Thanks to reviewers, Sanibel Public Library has won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence every year from 2014 to 2020, earning Hall of Fame status. Certificate of Excellence honorees are now celebrated on TripAdvisor as Travelers’ Choice winners — selected for placing among the top 10% of all listings on TripAdvisor. Sanibel Public Library Foundation President Ken Nirenberg was awarded the 2013 Florida Library “Advocate of the Year” award for his support and advocacy for the Library. The Florida Weekly newspaper rated the SPL ‘Best Library’ in their 2012 and 2022 ‘Best of Southwest Florida’ issues.