By Ron Hayes
The libraries are big and small, public and private. Academic, deeply religious or passionate about medicine. They’re Finnish, Jewish and gay.
One hides a water tank. One is neighbor to a shuffleboard court. One was suspected of hosting a ghost.
Overdue in Paradise: The Library History of Palm Beach County is a book about books, filled with stories of those pioneers who filled a meager shelf or two with donated books a century ago, and how those bookshelves grew.
“Don’t you just love the title?” exclaims Donna Clarke, volunteer librarian at the tiny Briny Breezes library, who wrote the chapter about her collection. “It’s so clever.”
In 1958, a few shelves were constructed at the east end of the mobile home park’s community room, and a library was born. Six decades later, the library is still there, only feet from the shuffleboard courts, but it’s grown.
In the early days, a $5 hardcover book was kept under lock and key in glass cupboards. Today, the town provides a $1,250 annual budget, and the books, DVDs, CDs and audio books are checked out to residents on the honor system — 365 days a year.
And it’s all run by 23 dedicated, unpaid volunteers, including Clarke.
“We do have a library club with dues of $3 a year,” she adds. “We were debating upping it to $4 or $5, but I decided not to because people are so generous. Just since Thanksgiving we’ve had $600 in donations.”
Overdue in Paradise was the brainchild of Janet DeVries, a local historian, librarian and associate professor at Palm Beach State College, who realized the project with co-authors Graham Brunk, Ginger L. Pedersen and Shellie A. Labell.
“One day, Janet and I were texting back and forth and she came up with this idea that we could do together,” recalls Brunk, technology librarian at the Joseph and Gioconda King Library at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach.
“I had written some histories of libraries I had worked for as graduate school work on the county library system, and Janet had done something similar at the Boynton Beach City Library.”
Reaching out to other librarians, they found that many had already written their own histories.
“It just came together so quickly,” Brunk said.
Conceived in June 2016, the book went on sale in November 2017 at a cost of $14.95, with all profits to be split between the Palm Beach County Library Association and the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries.
In 30 short chapters, the contributors — most, but not all, librarians — recount a surprisingly wide variety of collections.
We’ve got public libraries, from the sprawling county library system to the more modest independent municipal collections in Manalapan and Highland Beach.
The atrium of the Highland Beach Library faces the Intracoastal Waterway.
Lois Albertson remembers visiting the Highland Beach Library in the early 2000s, when it occupied a too-small space in Town Hall.
Today, the library has its own 11,000-square-foot building, and Albertson is the director.
“I learned a lot writing my chapter,” she says. “One of the things that was fun for me was going back and doing the research using our little collection of materials we have here, old newspaper articles. It was a fun way for me to learn more about the library’s history.”
Not surprisingly, we’ve got academic libraries at FAU and Florida State College, but did you know there’s a theological collection at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, where some titles date to the 1500s?
Most unusual and least known are the “special libraries”— collections either off-limits to the public or serving a specialized readership.
Finlandia House in Lantana houses 4,000 titles of Finnish history and culture.
The Jewish Genealogical Society Library at Temple Shaarei Shalom in Boynton Beach and the Strier Library at Temple Beth Tikvah in Greenacres chronicle thousands of years of Jewish history.
At Compass, the county’s LGBTQ community center in Lake Worth, the Joel M. Starkey Library offers more than 1,500 volumes of fiction, nonfiction, history and memoir.
Old stories that never die
At Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, the medical library was paid for with S&H Green Stamps.
Well, sort of.
The Richard S. Beinecke Medical Library, dedicated in 1968, was a gift from the Beinecke family in memory of Richard Sperry Beinecke (1917-1966), director of the Sperry and Hutchinson Co., the “S&H” of S&H Green Stamps.
Once upon a time, a newspaper library was affectionately known as “the morgue,” where old news stories go to die — until some intrepid reporter needs to check a fact from the past. So perhaps it’s no surprise that The Palm Beach Post library was occasionally visited by the ghost of librarians past.
In the late 1970s, when the paper’s library was at the end of a long hallway, the staff would try to identify an approaching colleague by the sound of his or her footsteps.
One set of footsteps reached the door, but never entered, so staff members liked to think it was the ghost of Lois Wilson, the head librarian, who had recently died of a severe asthma attack.
That chapter was written by Mary Kate Leming, who served as The Post’s head librarian for more than 20 years before becoming the executive editor and co-owner of The Coastal Star.
The J. Turner Moore Memorial Library in Manalapan has curved walls that hide the town’s 400,000-gallon water holding tank and provide art exhibit space.
The prize for most practical use of a library surely belongs to the J. Turner Moore Memorial Library on Hypoluxo Island.
“My greatest experience from writing that chapter was connecting with J. Turner Moore’s daughter, Daphne, who lives in the Atlanta area,” says Hypoluxo historian Michelle Donahue. “It was an incredible experience. We talk at least three times a month on the phone.”
As Donahue tells the tale, the original library, established in 1970 in a former laundry room on the grounds of the Manalapan Club, was renamed for Moore, a former mayor, in 1977.
And then the waters rose.
In 1981, when the town of Manalapan established a direct-filtration water plant on the mainland, the water had to be pumped through a pipe under the Intracoastal Waterway to a 400,000-gallon holding tank on the island.
A very unsightly water tank. In the heart of a very upscale neighborhood.
And so, by the end of the year, the library had been rebuilt as a 2,000-square-foot Spanish style building with pink stucco walls, a barrel tile roof and a water tank cleverly concealed behind its curved interior walls.
Now residents like to boast that their library is truly a “fountain of knowledge.”
Overdue in Paradise is available at the J. Turner Moore Memorial Library in Manalapan and on Amazon, as well as from the Palm Beach County Library Association, the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries Inc., the Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce and The Book Cellar on Lake Avenue in Lake Worth.
Lantana Library Chair Ginny Spence stands at the sign for the library when it stood just west of the Ocean Avenue Bridge.
The first Boynton Beach library was on the second floor of the original Boynton Woman’s Club on the south side of Ocean Avenue, behind the sand pine tree at left. Photos from Overdue in Paradise