When Betty Aiken was taking care of her mother in her final 15 years of life, she would come to the South Manatee Library to check out books. Her mother had dementia, so the books helped Aiken keep busy.
After her mother passed away, the Manatee County resident said she remembers thinking, “I’ve got to do something for that library.”
So in 2009, the 86-year-old began volunteering at the library, 6081 26th St. W., Bradenton, and is now also on the board of the Friends of South Manatee Library.
“It’s important to me because I love to read,” Aiken said as she volunteered at the Book Ends used bookstore in the library Wednesday. “It was just quite natural that I would take advantage of these facilities here.”
Never miss a local story.
On Thursday, Manatee County will celebrate 50 years of library service in the southern portion of the county. There will be a celebration, which is being put on by the Friends group, from 4-6 p.m. at the library featuring food, music, story time and yoga.
While the library has only been located in its current location since April 21, 1996, the first South Manatee Library opened in September 1967 on Bayshore Gardens Parkway just to the south of Bayshore Gardens Shopping Center.
“The first place in the county where there was a real need for a branch library was the Bayshore Gardens area, as it was the most densely populated Manatee County,” according to county documents.
Over the years, the branch has moved to different locations as it has continued to grow. In 2016, the 13,000-square foot library has an annual patron count of 199,000, which is an increase from the 60,000 patron count in 1984.
“This library has been supported for 50 years here and it’s grown,” said Linda Noyce, the branch supervisor. “As libraries in the world have changed, the locations have changed to meet the needs of the community.”
South Manatee Library serves as a community center
While only in her sixth month as branch supervisor, Noyce, who has worked in Manatee County libraries for nearly 13 years, sees the South Manatee Library as more of a community center.
“We are really a hub of the community itself, and we are not just a storage house anymore,” she said. “We are now a space for folks to collaborate and come together in the community.”
Each area of the county has such different needs, according to Ava Ehde, the county’s library services manager.
“For us, we just need to be learning about all those varied needs,” she said. “I think for 50 years in that community in particular, it is just such a rich community. ... We are just doing everything we can to identify those needs.”
With libraries not being what they used to be, Thursday’s 50th anniversary celebration will celebrate the past while highlighting the library’s future by including things such as yoga, Noyce said.
“We are going to be celebrating not only the history of this area for libraries but also the future,” she said.
But while new programming comes to the library, it is about quality rather than quantity, Noyce said.
“I want to make every programming the most inviting,” she said. “Quality is really important.”
There are no plans to expand the library but the landscape inside the walls will change in the future as the branch continues to meet the needs of the community, Noyce said.
“You are going to see it change,” she said. “It is going to change to be more open, inviting.”
Patrons enjoy South Manatee Library
Even though storytime was finished, several mothers and their children were still at the library Wednesday morning. For Bradenton resident Tiffany Davis, it allow her son Grayson, who is 21 months old, an opportunity to interact with other children since he is an only child.
“I love the class,” she said. “It is socializing for him. We love reading so he reads lots of books.”
Davis lives five minutes away from the South Manatee branch but she goes to all the libraries for their respective children’s events.
“It is awesome,” she said. “It is good to socalize. We really enjoy it.”
Bradenton resident Sarah Sherwood was watching her two daughters, Tyla and Parker, play with Grayson and other children Wednesday.
“We try to come every week for storytime,” she said. “It is close by the house and I like getting the girls out to interact with others their age.”
For Sherwood, who has been bringing her daughters to storytime for a little less than a year, it has allowed her to meet other families.
“I would like to get them used to getting to the library,” she said. “They like being read to.”
Annual Patron Count
If you go: South Manatee Library 50th year celebration
- 4-6 p.m. Thursday
- South Manatee Library, 6081 26th St. W., Bradenton
- For more information, call 941-755-3892
History of South Manatee Library
- 1966: Bayshore Gardens residents discussed opening a library in South Manatee County.
- September 1967: First South Manatee Library opened just south of the Bayshore Gardens Shopping Center.
- 1978: The building was expanded to 3,500 square feet to provide additional seating and a meeting room.
- April 21, 1996: New South Manatee Branch library opened at its current location, 6081 26th St. W. at 10,000-square feet.
- 2010: The library was renovated with funds provided by a donation from a patron’s estate. The library size increased to 13,000 square feet.