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Sanibel Public Library reopens, providing volumes of support for still-struggling community

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Cary Barbor
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The Sanibel Public Library

When the Sanibel Public Library reopened for the first time since Hurricane Ian, John Raho was the first patron through the doors. The staff presented him with a mug to welcome him back. He was anxious to get back to one of the calm, air conditioned workrooms. There he could use the phone and the internet to get back to his job as the CFO of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida. He’s been dealing with a damaged home, like virtually everyone on the island. But, he says, once he got immersed in a work call, he forgot all about the hurricane damage, if only for a moment.

John Raho.jpg
Cary Barbor
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Patron John Raho

“The minute I got into my call and I got completely distracted, it was as if the storm never happened,” he said. “I was looking up, I was thinking, I’ll go get lunch, I’ll go to Jerry’s. That’s when it came back to me. But I literally had fooled myself. And that is the magic, at least for me, of the library. Because without this space, I don’t think I would have felt that.”

In addition to books and other media, the library offers essential services like Wi-Fi, copying, faxing, and meeting with people, all in a clean and air conditioned space.

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Cary Barbor
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The Sanibel Public Library

And not only does it offer internet in-house, the library lends out Wi-Fi hotspots.

Reference and Archives Librarian Beth Jarrell explains.

“We have Wi-Fi hotspots that people can check out for two-week periods,” she said. “Most of the island doesn't have internet and sometimes they don’t even have cell service right now. So it’s really important for people to have a way to access the internet without having to go all the way over to Fort Myers. This way with the hotspot they can take it home and as long as they have cell service in their home, they can use the internet for whatever purposes they might need it.”

Buildings all along the route to the library are in ruins. Outside nearby bookshop Gene’s, there sits a small, heartbreaking mountain of soggy, ruined books. So it’s hard to believe that the library’s collection survived the storm virtually unharmed. But because it was on the second floor of the building, it did.

Head of Collection Development Duane Shaffer explains:

“Good news is that the entire collection, the print media, everything, magazines, movies, it's all up here on the second floor,” he said. “And this library was built in 1994. And it’s very solid. It’s almost like a castle.”

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Cary Barbor
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First-floor damage at the Sanibel Public Library

But a castle that Sanibel residents really frequent. Reference and Archives Librarian Beth Jarrell again:

“We actually have one of the highest percentages of cardholders across the entire state,” she said. “So the library has always been a real community center for people. And I think now more than ever, people want to come in and have a place to just feel normal again.”

Sanibel resident Liz Podolsky, who is also a Realtor on the island, sums it up when she explains why she wanted to come back for opening day.

“The library’s always been just an integral part of our life here, so I had to be here to see it for myself,” said Podolsky. “Just to see that we are recovering. And it’s really the heart of the community. The amount of resources, and just how supportive the library is to us. It’s a huge step forward in our recovery.”

The Sanibel Public Library will be open 10 AM - 3 PM, weekdays in December. Curbside pickup of books, puzzles, and other materials is also available.

For more information, go to Sanlib.org.