Skip to main content

Times of the Islands Magazine

Sanibel Public Library: Reimagined - Bringing An Island Treasure Up To Date

Oct 28, 2018 08:35AM

It’s already ranked no. 1 of 55 things to do on Sanibel Island on Trip Advisor. And, most of those gushing reviews were written during an extensive $5.8 million renovation over the past couple years when only part of the collection and space has been available for use.

With more than 140,000 visits per year and usage rates that consistently rank it at or near the top of all libraries in the state of Florida, islanders and visitors alike treasure the Sanibel Public Library as a vital community asset.

The renovation project, which is slated to be completed by the end of October, promises to make it even more popular and valued in some new ways.

Following a request for proposals sent out in 2015, the library’s board of commissioners interviewed architectural firms from Fort Myers, Sarasota and Cleveland, Ohio.

“We decided to go with HBM Architects out of Cleveland based on their prior work specializing in libraries,” says Margaret Mohundro, executive director since 2007. “They’d been through this process before with many communities around the country.”

Having worked on as many as 400 library projects, including new builds as well as redesigns, HBM brought a national level of expertise and a lot of possibilities to the table.

“The Sanibel library has been a really good partner,” says Kevin Kennedy, principal architect at HBM. “The patrons love their library and were paramount in the process.”

The initial phase of the renovation project, dubbed “Your Library Reimagined,” directly invited community engagement, reflecting a key concept in 21st century libraries. “Modern libraries are much more than just a place for books,” says Kennedy. “Libraries are really more about places for people to interact and collaborate.”

In keeping with the island tradition, which is best understood by the successful effort of residents in the early 1970s to incorporate the island as a city, staving off rampant development by Lee County, the community stepped right up with interaction and collaboration.

“We had a few hundred community members attend the ‘mind-breaking’ sessions that the architecture firm hosted, where they encouraged us to think outside of the traditional library,” says Mohundro. “We got a lot of good feedback and a lot of good ideas.”

From that input, HBM learned that the patrons highly valued the library’s author series. On a quarterly basis, the library brings high-caliber, best-selling authors to do readings and meet patrons. Past guests of the series include such notable talent as Joyce Carol Oates, Sue Monk Kidd, Jodi Picoult, Clive Cussler, Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Frances Mayes, Erik Larson and Margaret Atwood.

“We understood that it was really, really important to have a really flexible space to allow for the author series event, where 250 people could mill about within the collection and food could be served,” says Brooke Breiner, interior designer with HBM. “We designed it so the collection can be moved to the side, and chairs and tables can be moved to open it up for these events.”

Understanding how important such programs are in modern libraries, the architect and designer also focused on recalibrating the overall feel of the interior of the library, which was originally constructed in 1994—pre-internet.

“Our concept was to create an open, bright, airy and well-lit space,” says Kennedy, adding that the original structure was well intact, but the need to redo all the wiring and the HVAC system opened up a lot of possibility with the redesign. “Nothing was added to the usable square footage except for a new small elevator and vestibule,” he adds.

Also, in response to input from eco-minded islanders, HBM sought to reuse, refresh and revamp whenever possible. “We used products with recycled content to reduce the carbon footprint. And we were very careful of recognizing products and furniture that could be reused,” says Breiner. “There were some great pieces that we kept, including lounge chairs that we reupholstered.”

Based in northeastern Ohio where they get only about 60 days of sunshine per year, the redesign team was also invigorated by Sanibel’s amazing preponderance of natural beauty. “Sanibel is not lacking inspiration in its natural surroundings,” says Breiner, citing the color palette as sandy tones and different shades of blue that reflect the texture and tonal variations of water coming up on the sand. “We also used corals, teals and oranges from seashells on the beach.”

Mohundro is very excited to welcome patrons into the new space, which includes new collaborative spaces, a think-tank area and a new teen area. “We’ve added more seating along the windows as people requested, and these little living room areas where you can sit and share ideas. We hope more people will make the library a regular stop on their visits and in their routines and find us to be a home away from home,” she said.

To find out when the newly reimagined space will have its grand reopening, go to sanlib.org.


Barbara Linstrom, a freelance writer/producer based in South Fort Myers, has written for Times of the Islands since its premiere issue in 1997. From 2006-2017, she served as executive producer of television at WGCU, the regional PBS/NPR station.