Taking her children to the library is something Arlene Lancaster fondly recalls as a mother.
“I took my kids when they were little to the library all the time for storytime,” said Lancaster, a retired school teacher who first moved to Wilton Manors in 1973.
Decades later Lancaster remains involved as president of the Friends of the Wilton Manors Library. The private charitable corporation is composed of volunteers dedicated to keeping the library operational and independent.
“We want to make sure we keep our little library in the city,” Lancaster said. “It’s one of the places a city should have.”
Wilton Manors is one of five cities in Broward County with its own library — independent of the county’s system. The library, named in honor of Richard C. Sullivan, a generous benefactor, is known for its cozy personal feel where visitors are warmly recognized as opposed to treated like a number on a library card.
“It’s like an old-fashioned general store where people meet to talk,” said Paul Kuta, who serves as vice president of the Friends of the Wilton Manors Library.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, put a halt to those gatherings and health guidelines that require visitors to wear masks and keep physical distance remain in place.
“We’re hoping pretty soon to get back to normal,” said Library Director Rick Sterling.
Sterling has served as Library Director since 2004. The Library Division is under the Leisure Services Department. The division has three full-time and seven part-time employees with an annual budget of $777,952. It’s money well spent, said Sterling.
“It’s what the people want,” Sterling said. “The library is emblematic of the pride in our community.”
Past efforts to consolidate the library into the county system were met with fierce local resistance. The library was formed by an ancestor “Friends” organization in 1957 with the city taking control a year later.
The Friends group, Sterling said, provides up to $15,000 annually in financial support by raising money through book sales and memberships. Kuta, a retired Pentagon budget officer, said the organization’s mission is two-fold — advocate for the capabilities of the library’s assets and supplement the city budget.
Tech support is a top priority. The computers used by the public are provided by the Friends of the Library. With its collection of books, magazines, newspapers and videos, the library carries a significant historical benefit, Kuta said.
Lancaster agreed and said she anticipates more children will find their way to the library as the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
“Our kids are coming back,” Lancaster said. “Some don’t think there are any families here, but I know there are families in the city.”
A 2019 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau showed there were more than 800 people under the age of 18 living in Wilton Manors.
Sterling said interest in children’s books has increased, an indicator of more homeschooling.
Lancaster said additional parking near the library is needed, but upgrades come at a cost and money is tight after the facility was shuttered for more than a year due to the pandemic. This year’s budget is projecting a $3,000 increase in fines.
“We encourage people to get their books back on time,” Sterling said.
National Friends of the Library Week is celebrated Oct. 17-23. Memberships for the Friends of the Wilton Manors Library range from $10 to $40 for a Friends Patron to $100 for Benefactors.