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Adventure by the Book: Island Libraries Offer a Special Kind of Retreat

Jun 15, 2022 01:25PM ● By CAPT. BRIAN HOLAWAY

Love in the library quiet and cool  

Love in the library there are no rules 

Surrounded by stories surreal and sublime 

I fell in love in the library once upon a time. Jimmy Buffett  


In a world full of iPhones, apps, and Googling at your fingertips, some may think of libraries as a place they used to visit. It’s not the case with this guy. Libraries have always allowed the mind to travel, escape, find hope, learn, and explore. When I think of libraries I think of the quote by the late author Jim Harrison, “Pretend you’re a spy for the country of your own mind.” 

I can still smell my hometown library, feel the wooden rectangular boxes of oak that held the Dewey Decimal System in place. I can still see librarian Fern Benge at the old library table on the left-hand side as you walked in the front door. She would smile and ask if I was looking for more ocean books or the latest Jacques Cousteau volume. After a quick nod of the head, she would lead me to the latest books about the water world.  

I am older now and thankful for many librarians and libraries. Today I am a patron of the island libraries of Southwest Florida. These treasure troves of information offer fiction and nonfiction, as well as charts, soil samples, plant guides, references, Florida history, Pineapple Press, maps, magazines, newspapers, and the list goes on. The outdoor spaces in these local institutions are especially enticing. 

Here are a few of my favorite tropical libraries. 

My first experience with an outdoor space at a library was in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1993. This was a small library with no air conditioning. You could feel the tropics as you walked through the aisles. Some of the books were in “tropical condition,” and some had water damage from the last tropical storm. None of this deterred me from checking out some unique books about Jamacia. It was here where I got hooked on libraries with outdoor spaces. It could also have been the aroma of jerk chicken drifting in while I was browsing the shelves. 

The Sanibel Public Library is always a treat for cultivating the mind. The main floor has an outside porch area with rocking chairs that draw you into a slower pace. The porch overlooks a small pond lined with cabbage palms and buttonwood trees. If you want to relax with a book in your hand with nothing but the sound of an osprey, this library is for you. You can even check out binoculars with a bird guidebook to take yourself on a birding expedition (with luck, you may see the pileated woodpecker that frequents the area before you ever leave the library grounds). The staff here is extremely friendly and ready to help with any request. 

The outdoor space at the Johann Fust Community Library in Boca Grande takes you back in time. You immediately feel this as you walk up the steps and see the cypress doors accented with a trellis full of bougainvillea. There is a fountain and garden with open space and an outdoor reading area. The library was completed in 1950 and has been inspiring people to relax, read, and enjoy literature in the outdoors for decades. 

Reconnect with an old library, find a new one, explore the pages, feel the spine, turn the page. Find new books, reread old books, but most of all, enjoy the library—and if you can, find yourself outside with a book in your hand. 


Capt. Brian Holaway is a Florida Master Naturalist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and ecotour guide since 1995. His boat charters visit the islands of Pine Island Sound, including Cayo Costa State Park, Cabbage Key, Pine Island, and North Captiva. 



Sanibel Public Library 

770 Dunlop Road, Sanibel 



Johann Fust Community Library 

1040 W. 10th Street, Boca Grande