The Elsie Quirk Public Library is as much a part of the Englewood community as any building, business or beach. But did you ever wonder who Elsie Quirk was?
Elsie and Wellington Quirk moved to the Englewood area in the 1940s. In 1961, inspired by a small community library they visited on a vacation to North Carolina, the couple decided that this was just what Englewood needed.
The Quirks donated land they owned at 101 Cocoanut Avenue and $10,000 so Englewood could have a library of its own. The Quirks weren't the only ones excited about the idea of a library in Englewood. In 1961 the Friends of the Library was established headed by Leah Lasbury, Josephine Cortes and President Lois Potter.
These dedicated women gathered additional donations and lobbied Sarasota County to recognize their efforts to build a public library.
Stocked with 3600 books donated by the Lemon Bay Woman's Club, and manned by volunteers including Elsie Quirk, the library opened its doors on June 15, 1962. The 1400 square-foot library was the first in the Sarasota County Library System, when it was established in 1963.
Elsie Quirk's first librarian was Harriet Ives. A graduate of the University of Syracuse, with a Master's degree in Library Science, Ives was a bargain at her $1 an hour salary.
The library immediately proved a popular spot and meeting place in sleepy Englewood and underwent its first expansion in 1964 when a children's and young adult book section was added.
Then in 1972, Mr. O.T. Alexander donated $15,000 to the Friends of the Library. That money was used to purchase more land and add an actual youth reading room, which was named the Alexander Wing. The Friends raised additional funds to dramatically increase the library's collection to 29,000 books, great news for its 4,000 plus library card holders.
Cris Walton was hired by Ives as a library assistant in 1978 and is now a senior librarian. She has seen a lot of changes in her 31 years at the library. "I remember when we got videos, how exciting that was," said Walton of the now nearly obsolete medium.
As Englewood got bigger so did the library. In 1982, after five years of fund-raising, came a $500,000 expansion that added a second floor and mezzanine. Now 35,000 books were available in the nearly 12,000 square foot library.
Also that year, Michele Strickland was hired as a library page. Then a junior at Lemon Bay High School, it was Strickland's first job. She never left and is now an Administrative Specialist.
In 1988, Ives retired and Elsie Quirk began imposing fines on late returns. Ives had always refused to charge her patrons for returning books late.
With a new head librarian, Helen Burns, a brand new copy machine, and its first computer, an Apple with dot matrix graphics, 1988 was a year of change for the Elsie Quirk and more was on the way.
Those electric doors that allow you to enter and leave the library without having to balance your books in one hand didn't exist until 1990, the year the library also got its first fax machine. Five years later came the entrance on West Dearborn Street and additional parking.
Moving and Growing
The library's most ambitious expansion occurred earlier this decade. This time the staff had to actually pack up roughly 2000 boxes and move down State Road 776 to a temporary location at Englewood Plaza.
The $1.2 million renovation, funded by Sarasota County sales tax dollars and a state grant, took a bit longer than planned, but most would say the wait was worth it. When the library reopened to the public in December 2001, it was like a brand new Elsie Quirk.
There was a new community room with a catering kitchen, a bookstore area for the Friends, a children's program room, self check-out, 12 computers, more parking and more books and DVDs.
The Elsie Quirk Public Library Today
Following Helen Burns' retirement in 2006, Jennifer Perry became just the third librarian in Elsie Quirk's nearly 50-year history. Walton says they are planning for yet another renovation early next year when the library moves to a single reference/circulation desk and automated check-in.
Chris Kourapis, a member of the Friends, says their group, which now numbers about 200, is also looking toward the future and finally relocating their book store to the front of the library. This project has been in the works for years and recently received funding from Sarasota County. The Friends are in the process of raising funds for bookshelves, tables, and other equipment.
Through all the renovations and changes, the Elsie Quirk Public Library has held a significant place in Englewood's history. Long-time employees like Walton, Strickland and others provide a sense of continuity among all the renovations and electronic upgrades.
The children Walton read to at preschool story time in the early 1980s now bring their own children to library programs. And while those kids may check out DVDs instead of videos and high school students may turn to the Internet instead of the library's encyclopedias, Walton says some things don't change. "Books are still our business."
Note: Much of the information in this article comes from the Elsie Quirk Public Library's archive file. Thank you to Toni Hopper and to the staff and Friends of the Library for their help. - Sharyn Lonsdale