By Carla Grieve
Grieve is a member of the Collier County Library Advisory Board and board member of the Friends of the Library. She is retired from IBM.
A 55th birthday or anniversary hardly seems like a big deal these days, especially in our part of the world where 70th birthday parties are common.
However, I want to call your attention to an event that occurred 55 years ago on Sept. 3, 1957. At the regularly scheduled Collier County Commissioners' meeting in Everglades City (county seat until 1962), they voted to create the Collier County Free Public Library.
But, first a bit of history leading up to that important decision. Collier County's libraries began with the Naples Woman's Club. It's 1932, and a group of women met at 518 11th Ave. S., their first clubhouse, donated by Mrs. E.W. Crayton and Mrs. W. L. Clarke.
A small reading room was created as a service to the community's "civic welfare and social interests," the goals of the Naples Women's Club.
To put those early days in perspective, let's look at the population of Collier County: less than 3,000 in 1930, just over 5,000 by 1940, about 6,500 by 1950 and about 15,800 in 1960. Could that last big increase have been because of what happened in 1957? Probably not, but it might have been a contributing factor.
In January 1957, with the support of the Naples Woman's Club, Judge E. A. Wildermuth (also recognized locally for his efforts to fund and build a hospital in Naples), Attorney Ben Parks, Jr., Collier County News Editor Michael Chance and others met to loosely form what is now known as the Friends of the Library of Collier County.
Although it wasn't until March of 1961 that the organization officially incorporated, 1957 marks the year that this small group of library "friends" began to work toward the creation of a Collier County Free Public Library. Later that year, the Naples Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Board of County Commissioners suggesting that a proposed library system for Collier County be considered during upcoming budget hearings.
So at the September meeting, they did it.
The project would cost $15,000 per year from the county and $10,000 in federal aid for four years. After that time, the county would take over all costs.
It was to have a central station at Naples, collection stations at other points and a traveling bookmobile to connect them.
On July 14, 1959, the Woman's Club donated its full 7,000-volume book collection to the new library. A few years later, the library left its home at the Naples Woman's Club and relocated to a much larger building at Third Street and Broad Avenue — the Old Naples Building, now being renovated into a restaurant.
In February 1963, Mrs. Ferdinand Lee purchased a full block of land extending from First Avenue South to Central Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets for $95,000. She then donated it to the Friends. The county holds a 99-year lease for $1 per year.
After several years of fund-raising, the building was opened on Central Avenue as the Headquarters Library on Feb. 13, 1966.
The CCPL has grown over the years and today it encompasses three large regional libraries (the one on Orange Blossom Drive is now the headquarters) and seven smaller branches stretching over 181,082 square feet.
Are you ready for some more numbers? The annual circulation of material was 2,760,427 items for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Patrons came into the libraries 1,497,821 times to borrow or return material, use an on-site computer, access the internet via Wi-Fi from their own laptops, attend a class, consult a reference librarian, see a movie, listen to a live concert, read a newspaper or magazine, pay an overdue fine, get a beach pass, pick up tax forms, or just to spend time in a welcoming place.
There were 324,089 visits to the website www.collivergov.net/library where you can search for a DVD, reserve or renew a book, download an e-Book via OverDrive, practice a language (U.S.A. Learns for English, Mango for many others), get algebra tutoring (Tutor.com), register for a Microsoft Word class, complete an application for Mail-A-Book service, and so much more.
So, how about giving a birthday present to the Friends of the Library's Endowment Fund? How about $55? Or, better yet $155, $255, $355 or anything that ends in 55.
Send your gift to Friends of the Library, 650 Central Ave., Naples, FL 34102.
Remember, using the library is a gift for you — making a donation is a gift from you.