By Jane Bartnett
Soon after the Gulf Gate Library opened its doors in January 2015, at 7112 Curtis Avenue, praise for the $7.69 million, two-story, 24,920-square-foot building project began to pour in. Designed by Sarasota County architects Harvard Jolly Architects, and built by Willis A. Smith Construction Inc., of Lakewood Ranch, the current structure replaced the previous library that was built in 1983.
Discussing the Gulf Gate Library’s 50 year history, Christine Franz Aston, Gulf Gate Library Manager of Libraries and Historical Resources, told the Siesta Sand that the library has come a long way from its humble bookmobile beginnings in the 1970‘s. After a generous donor gave the library a sizable tract of land at the corner of Gulf Gate Drive and Curtiss Avenue, the first permanent Gulf Gate Library opened its doors in 1983. As the years went by and growth and demand continued, Aston reported that “they kept adding on to the original 1983 building.” Some 25 years later, it was clear that a new, larger, up-to-date library was needed. In the early days of 2010, the community came together to plan a new library. It became “a true community project,” Aston noted. “Everyone was very supportive and very focused on getting a new library.”
When the old building was demolished in 2013, the library moved into temporary headquarters in the Sarasota Square Mall. “When we opened in January 2015,” Aston, said, “there must have been 3,000 people on hand. It was a fantastic grand opening. ”
The new library was quickly recognized by the American Institute of Architects for its “flexible meeting spaces and warm, inviting design,” and by the U.S. Green Building Council. Accolades for the building’s design included a 2016 designation as the Most Beautiful Library in Florida.
A short drive from Siesta Key, the Gulf Gate library is easily accessible from Stickney Point and South Tamiami Trail. Open to all Sarasota County residents and visitors alike, residents are encouraged to obtain a free Sarasota County Library card to access the library’s many offerings. Non-residents visiting Siesta Key and the Sarasota region are also encouraged to obtain temporary library cards online or at the library. Three-month cards are $15 per person, six-month cards are $25 per person, and one-year library cards are $40 per person. Library cards are accepted at all 10 Sarasota County Libraries.
Inside the calm interior oasis of the Gulf Gate Library, visitors will discover such amenities as two peaceful reading gardens, a story-time room for children, a large teen center, a tech lab with public access computers and a drive-through “returns” window. WiFi access is available in all areas of the library and the building is equipped with a “hearing loop” for the hearing impaired.
The library’s digital online library catalog features a wide array of books in print, audio books, videos, magazines, music recordings and other materials (www.sarac.scgov.net.). Homework help, genealogy, career assistance and test preparation help is also available. Aston reported that one of the library’s most popular services is the digital media service “Hoopla.” Through Hoopla, Aston said, library users can “borrow eight Hoopla checkouts per-person, per-month.” The service offers thousands of movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics and TV shows that can be enjoyed on computers, tablets, phones and TV’s.
Each month, the library system also offers a wide selection of free, live and pre-recorded programs for all ages. January’s on-demand offerings include opera, the Mystery Book Lovers’ Club, the Friendship Center’s Road Scholar Program, an Edible Gardening Series, and “Story Time from Space” featuring astronauts reading books to children.
The library is also making plans to join in the 2021 Sarasota County Centennial Celebration. “We’ll do 100 days of programming beginning at the end of March and ending July 1,” Aston said. Events and programs being planned will highlight Sarasota County’s history and cover a range of topics including archaeology, the African American experience in Sarasota County, Sarasota’s Suffragette movement, underwater historical sites, the Gulf, and much more. “Although 2020 has been a challenging year for our staff and patrons, I’m so appreciative of our library patrons and all the work that our staff, and the Friends of the Gulf Gate Library have done,” she said.
This summer, a new contemporary “book themed” copper sculpture will be unveiled in the library’s front lobby. Designed by internationally acclaimed artists Gus & Lina Ocamposilva, known for their public art installations, the sculpture is a gift from the Friends of the Gulf Gate Library. The sculpture is being made from the original preserved copper roof that graced the 1983 library building. “What a wonderful gift this will be,” said Aston. The Ocamposilva’s public art sculptures are found in New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, and major cities around the world.