By Bill Herrin
There are average libraries in almost every town. Let’s just say that Destin doesn’t have one of those libraries. The Destin Library is a beehive of activity, ideas, proactive programs, instructive training, and outright community support, with a dash of creative spark. Sure, it’s a reader’s paradise, but that’s just the beginning.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I was already impressed. Long twisting branches of gorgeous live oaks gently waving in the breeze, as they shadowed the beautifully cultivated flowerbeds. Immaculate landscaping, benches galore, and then there’s the library itself.
After meandering toward the front doors, I met none other than Mark Twain, who’s been known to write a book or two. He’s perched with his left arm across the back of a bench…a tailor-made selfie spot. In the olden days, it would have been called a Kodak moment, or maybe a Polaroid pit stop.
The entranceway, with its compass-like inlaid marble floor design, is impressive, the staff is friendly and eager to help, and despite the high ceilings and an amazing array of spaces, it feels like home. The building opened at this location on St. Patrick’s Day 2003 and is beautifully maintained.
The original library was started in the 1930s by the Zerbe family and was situated in a single room at the Destin Presbyterian Church. From there, a library building was built—that building now houses the Destin History & Fishing Museum on Stahlman Avenue. The periodicals/reading area hosts a wonderful display of vintage books (The Zerbe Collection) from the historic days of the library’s humble beginnings.
Meeting with library director Wen Livingston, I was not only given a tour of the facilities but an eyeful of all the things they offer. I continued to be amazed as the tour progressed. This library offers a children’s library, an adult reading area, teen reading area, study rooms, a media lab that provides access to recording and editing equipment (including a green screen for video), a computer workstation with full access to Adobe Creative Suite applications, and more.
There are audiobooks, e-books (you download them, and they automatically return themselves digitally), magazines, digital magazines, a designated computer terminal just for use to research genealogy on Ancestry.com, more computers for internet access, and a computer lab set up for use as an instructional/training area.
You can sign out DVD movies (Blu-ray, too) and video games (including Nintendo Switch games), and there are plans to have a space for teens to play video games on location. Ms. Livingston says, “It’s a credit to the city that they’ve dedicated the resources to make this available for everyone.” She also shares that library card holders have free access to www.lynda.com, an online learning resource that has recently partnered with LinkedIn.com.
The library is owned by the city and works in cooperation with other libraries in Okaloosa County, providing access to books (and more) between the different locations. Okaloosa County residents can get a library card for free, as well as active military or employees of Okaloosa County or the city of Destin. Anyone that lives outside Okaloosa County can access the Destin Library for just $36 a year.
Megan Fontaine, an administrative assistant at the library, wears more than a few hats. Besides facilitating classes in the computer lab, she works with the teen reading club, teaches teens to write computer code to invent and develop their own apps (in Scratch, a free programming language developed at MIT), and more. She shared about plans for a moon gazing event coming up in June, as well as a stargazing event in July, at a nearby park.
The events will feature telescopes, and some surprise visitors—a Stormtrooper group, complete with their dark (or is it Darth?) leader, Mr. Vader. These events are for all ages, and families are welcome. You can find out more on the library website (listed at the end of this article). Megan also shared about a wealth of summer activities, including some three-week “code camps,” including Python in June, Scratch in July, and Lego Robotics in August.
Since libraries exist to impart knowledge, I departed with way more than I had expected. The library has a spacious meeting room and features guest speakers on a regular basis, they have a roster of volunteers (of all ages) that even include Snowbirds, and they have a “work day” on the third Tuesday of each month. On the second Tuesday of each month, the Destin Garden Club meets there, and they also are credited for maintaining the landscaping of the grounds.
They also have begun an “artist of the month” display, featuring artwork throughout the library, and yes, it is available to purchase. They also sponsor free monthly “family friendly” movie screenings (projected onto the wall).
“It’s a busy place,” says Ms. Livingston. “It’s a beehive. It’s a place for people to come together, and they’re not expected to buy something. Just enjoy it. The people that work and volunteer here are dedicated to help and serve the community.”
I also was able to speak with Will Rogers, the References and Youth Services Librarian. Will hails from New York and started volunteering as a children’s storyteller sixteen years ago. He pointed out how the library does outreach for the Boys & Girls Club, as well as mobilizing volunteers of all ages. Since many high schoolers need volunteer credits as a graduation requirement, the library benefits from their time there. (Editor’s Note: After many years of service, Mr. Rogers retired on May 3.)
The Miss Willie Mae Room is just for kids and is the crown jewel of the library. Within its high walls, you are completely surrounded by a gorgeous underwater-themed mural. I was very impressed—I can only imagine what children must think of it. The room features storytellers, book readings and more. Over 30,000 kids have visited this area, and for good reason. It’s cool!
There’s also an open area for children to sit and read in the main open library space, surrounded by bookshelves…a great little nook to read a book.
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can definitely judge a town by its library. Destin has something truly special.
Follow the library’s Facebook page, visit their website at www.cityofdestin.com/105/Library, or call 850-837-8572 for more information. The library is located at 150 Sibert Avenue.
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