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Selby Library celebrates 25th anniversary

Written by on Saturday, October 7, 2023

But its history goes beyond the white building in downtown with the eye-shaped windows and marshmallow columns.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Oct. 7, 2023

Host: The Selby library in downtown Sarasota – that’s the white building with the eye-shaped windows and the marshmallow columns – is celebrating its 25th anniversary. But this library’s history goes back way beyond the 1990s when its current building was built. Here’s Ramon Lopez’s report.

Ramon Lopez: Sarasota’s Selby Library last week began celebrating the 25th anniversary of its opening. But its history actually dates back to the beginning of this century.

Located at 1331 First Street, Selby Library is an integral part of downtown Sarasota’s cultural landscape. The commemoration featured a diverse range of exhibits that showcased the library’s rich history and contributions to the community. The celebration included presentations by the Sarasota History Center and the Mote Marine Laboratory, which operates a small aquarium at the library.

Renee Di Pilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources, anchored the celebration. Selby is near and dear to her heart.

Renee Di Pilato: We love our Selby library. It’s iconic for us. We think of it as our flagship location. We do so many of our special events at Selby. We have a special collection, the Sarasota Music Archive. It’s just a wonderful hub for the Sarasota community, and we’re thrilled to celebrate 25 years in downtown.

Sarasota County Commissioners Ron Cutsinger and Mark Smith were there as well.

Ron Cutsinger: Well, we’ve seen a lot of changes over the past 25 years here in our system. For me, there’s no question the Sarasota County Library System is the best library system in the state. Libraries for me are kind of the heart of the community. It’s been about books, [but] we’re going digital, and you don’t understand libraries if you think that’s all a library is. And so I am proud to say that Sarasota County Libraries have adapted. They’re innovative, creative, and they persevered. And they continue to serve our community with relevance and dedication.

Mark Smith is an architect.

Mark Smith: As an architect, this building is unique, extremely functional, and a real asset to Sarasota, the city and the county, and its location is perfect, right here in the middle of the cultural center of our town. Because of the large grant from the William G. and Marie A. Selby Foundation, it was named the Selby Library. The arching windows around the entire building a whopping 78,000 square feet of space, and the large interior foyer make it perfect for large events. As we reflect on the past and the history of the library, it’s also important to look at the future – not just the future of the city, the county, or the future itself, the library, but the future generations that will celebrate the history of this amazing place we call home.

R.L.: Selby Library’s history extends far beyond its official opening in 1998. The library’s legacy began in 1907 when the Ladies’ Town Improvement Society opened a small library in an upstairs room of a building on the southwest corner of Main Street and Pineapple Avenue. It was provided by John Hamilton Gillespie, one of the founders of the City of Sarasota.

“We have pioneering women to thank for providing the community with the means to expand education and literacy,” Di Pilato said.

Today, the Sarasota County library system holds 2.8 million books in print, visual and electronic formats. Sarasota County has 10
library branches and a mobile library, serving 200,000 library cardholders. Di Pilato says a new History Center is in the works.

R.D.P.: We are in the process of designing a new history center for the county. The history center is our local historical archive. We have thousands of materials related to the history of Sarasota County, in the form of photographs, videos, ephemera archives,  and manuscripts. So we’re anxious to get those collections in a facility where people can access them. And we hope to break ground on that in 2024. It’s going to be adjacent to the Fruitville Library. So we’ll have a nice campus there – the Fruitville Library, which is one of our busiest locations, and adjacent will be the new History Center.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.