Fort Myers Beach (FMB) has a very distinctive, well organized and artistically designed library like no other I have ever seen. Its historical roots were established by Ruth Healy in 1954. On September 25, 1955 Estero Island had its first public library. Its maximum occupancy was 6 people, which included the librarian! The little cottage like structure had a selection of 1200 books for visitors to checkout. After several relocations, in July of 1961 the beach library erected its own building. By 1970 the library had doubled in size and in February of 1994 for the second time in almost 15 years, the library had a new home. In the year 2000, Dr. Leroy Hommerding took over as the library’s Director, which was now known as the Fort Myers Beach Library. His vision for the island’s library became a reality and reopened after its renovation with an ice cream social in October 2012.
Its contemporary, but very comforting ambience is like no other library you will ever experience. As you approach the library’s entrance, its architecture points more towards big city than small island. It compliments the island’s simple, but sophisticated attitude.
I had the opportunity to visit with Marsha Gardner and briefly meet Dr. Hommerding. I received a private tour from Marsha. She talked about the library’s exhibits and aisles of archived literature with their endless titles and subject matters. The lobby directs you to an elevator or a set of open stairs. The first floor has a staff and welcome desk. There are workstations, aisles of books and a kids area with an appropriately decorated reading room. The adult cubicles are located next to the staff’s desk. The first floor has a large area that focuses on children’s interests. There are many kid-friendly smaller workstations located throughout the children’s wing. The animated sea life figurines give the kid’s space their own tranquil domain. The area is cheerful and full of fun. The aisles of books offer reading materials that include fictional and educational contents.
The children’s corner is designed to appeal to a variety of age groups. Along with the enclosed reading room, there is an open area with a realistic-like tree where kids can go and stretch out to read their books. The motif that is scattered throughout the wing is mostly created by children. The décor is distinctively different from the adult sections. It has a young and fanciful feel to it. When I was growing up, I wish my hometown library was more like this one.
The group reading room (pictured left) is where Marsha Gardner takes time out of her busy day to organize a participating reading session with the kids. Unlike many of the library reading rooms I have experienced, this one has plenty of windows to let in the natural light. The room is very cheery and full of life and not stuffy or impersonal.
There are a few exhibits on the first floor. The one that caught my eye was the handmade dollhouse. It was created and put on loan to the library by some long time island residents. From here we proceeded to the second floor. There are two ways to accomplish this. You can take the flight of stairs or use the elevator. I would recommend taking the elevator.
The elevator keeps in theme with the islands aquatic life. The cabin of the elevator allows the passengers to view the artwork painted on the elevator’s shaft walls. The cartoon like sea creatures gives you a feeling of being in a bubble under the ocean. The portholes add a flare of realism as you travel between floors. The inside walls of the elevator’s cabin have hand painted artwork as well.
If you prefer using the stairs, the continuous artwork follows you between floors. The second floor offers a larger work area that is equipped with adult size workstations and computers. The floor’s layout blends aisles of publications along with fascinating exhibits. To your right are aisles of literature and to your left are glass cases filled with origami. Directly ahead of you are handmade quilts hanging on the wall. Behind you are rows of books authored by some of the greatest fiction and non-fiction writers the world has to offer. The interior walls are not typical of your average run of the mill library. There are cases filled with miniature handmade replicas of sixteen and seventeenth century maritime vessels. As you explore the rows of books, you will come to an area with displays cases filled with hundreds of hand crafted dolls. This unique exhibit has its own quaint little corner at the north end of the second floor. I wish I had room to post more pictures of all the different displays and exhibits that occupy this magnificent institution.
We now head to the third floor. The elevator doors open to a hallway like room that exhibits a very unique garden. The incredible uniqueness of it can only be described by the person viewing it. Some will see it as a sand garden that represents the island’s diversity. Others will see it as an artistic form representing multiple expressions cohabitating together in one place. I am sure that if and when you get the opportunity to view it, you will define it in your own words. I then turned right and follow the hallway into an open room that offers a picturesque view of the beach and gulf waters. The blue horizon blends evenly with the sky and sea. This particular area provides comfortable seating, WIFI connection and a bookstore. You can simply sit in one of the many available chairs and just stare out at the gorgeous scenery.
Like the previous floors, there is artwork hanging everywhere. Not only are the illustrations amazing, but the themes have a devout meaning that are expressed through every brush stroke. The third floor also offers private lecture and smaller conference rooms. The library schedules various types of presentations throughout the year.
The library’s Floor to ceiling contemporary design gives you an open air feeling. In some parts of the library you would almost think you are in a museum or an uptown art gallery. Dr. Leroy Hommerding has done a magnificent job designing and implementing such a spectacular neo-creative environment. If you live in or around the area or plan a trip to FMB, the library is a must see. It is as much of an attraction as the sugar white sandy beaches. Its family friendly and offers lots of educational values.