Key West Friends of the Library is chartered and is proud to celebrate over 50 years of providing support to the library.

Our thanks to Friends board member Betty Darst for researching and compiling our organization’s over fifty year history.

1972- Friends of the Library Inception

Ann McKee was the Friends’ first president. The organization was started because Ann and others saw the library’s need for additional help. Ann said that at that time in Key West, rich or poor, you knew everybody and could get them involved. In the beginning, the Friends met in the back of the library. First, they raised money to purchase needed chairs. The next project was to purchase a storage shed to store the books for the book sales. Later the focus was on the capital campaign project of raising funds for the auditorium. Margo Golan from Holiday Inn and Tennessee Williams were two of the major donors.

Ann McKee
Tennessee Williams speaks in the Key West auditorium (1971). It was later named for him in 1975.

1982- Literary Seminar Inception

The Friends helped form the Key West Literary Seminar, which continues to preserve and promote Key West’s literary heritage while providing resources that strengthen literary culture.

1992- Key West Mural

In 1992 the library underwent its first major renovation since it opened in 1959. The renovation included the auditorium and the Florida History room. In total, the renovation cost $850,000 of which the Friends of the Library contributed over $250,000. To acknowledge the donors to the renovation project, the Friends commissioned Key West Artist Suzie de Poo (also known as Zuzek) to paint the large tile mural at the entrance of the library. The mural, titled “Key West,” depicts native plants and island scenes. Edged with tiles listing names of the donors, it took Suzie almost a year to complete. Friends brought sample fruits from their gardens and shells to use as examples and the artist picked her own flowers fresh every morning. De Poo needed a final spark of inspiration and got it when the poincianas came into bloom, adding a touch of bright red. The mural was unveiled in 1993. Each name represents a $1,000 donation.

“Key West” by Suzie de Poo

June 4, 1994- Palm Garden Dedication

In the early 1990s, Monroe County agreed to let the Friends of the Library establish a garden on 1/8 acre of land next to the library that had been the site of a dilapidated private home. The house was moved to Duval Street and became the popular Bagatelle restaurant. A member of the Friends, Virgil Duane Rath, made an outright gift of $200,000 for the creation of the original garden, the purchase of 60 palms, and 10 years of maintenance. The completed Palm Garden was dedicated on June 4, 1994, as a peaceful retreat away from the crowds of Duval Street. 

In 2022, the Friends of the Key West Library and the Key West Garden Club undertook a joint restoration of the garden in celebration of the Friends’ 50th anniversary. The original canopy of mature palms continues to thrive, as does a huge Spanish Lime, which was part of the original property. A new understory of 75 native plants has been added recently to offer a burst of seasonal color. In addition, the ornate cement fountain now features cascading succulents and provides a stunning focal point. Today, the garden is used as both a quiet retreat and a popular venue for the library’s many programs and musical events, as well as the Friends’ book sales and speakers. These days, many public libraries seek to integrate nature within their architectural footprint using courtyards, atria, and gardens. How fortunate Key West Library is to have enjoyed such a beautiful public garden for decades. 

Key West Library Palm Garden
Palm Garden Fountain

1997- Speaker Series Inception

In 1997 the Friends of the Library Speaker Series began. The speaker series quickly outgrew the auditorium of the library, with the fire chief giving the order that we needed to find a larger space to safely host so many people. The series was held at the White Street Armory, the Tropic Cinema, Old City Hall, and the Key West Theater. Tickets for the limited seating were given out at 5:30. David Garrard Lowe and Lou Harris were perennial favorites, along with local authors Judy Blume and Arlo Haskell. Today, the speaker series is held in the library’s beautiful Palm Garden.

Carl Hiaasen speaks with Friends president Roberta Isleib in the Palm Garden

1997- Key West Library Goes Electronic

The Friends donated $70,000 to the Key West Library for the first phase of the library’s program to fully automate its staff operations and services. The money was used to purchase 15 computers, a number of printers, a scanner, a file server and other equipment and software that sped up internal library procedures. Procedures such as book ordering, processing and records management were first to benefit from the upgrades, eventually aiding in the conversion of Key West’s card catalog to a fully electronic catalog that today patrons can access by computers within the library and the website.

Original card catalog purchased for the Key West Library in 1975 by the Friends of the Library
First digitization of historical documents in the Florida Keys History Center

2008- Books To Ships Inception

Molly Shallow, on behalf of the Friends of the Library, took paperback books to Navy personnel serving on military ships. As an unofficial welcoming committee of one, Molly would greet the ships with a bag of surplus books chosen specially for the crew of the ship. She would sing out, “You don’t have to return them!” As a seasoned sailor Molly knew firsthand what it was like to be aboard ship for days on end when a good book would be a welcome off-duty diversion. Molly delivered as many as 1000 books a year. Molly was also an author.

Molly Shallow

2016- Florida History Room Goes Digital

Friends of the Library supported Florida International University’s efforts to digitize documents and photos from the Florida History Room so that they would be searchable online. These digital efforts also created metadata useful for discoverability of the digitized files and allowed for the contribution of these historical materials to the Digital Public Library of America. The Friends of the Library provided funds for the restoration and digitization of the oldest City of Key West’s commission meeting minutes book in the library archives. In addition, Friends also provided a steel horizontal flat file, which can safely house up to 200 loose or hard bound items up to 2 inches thick.

Today- Friends Supports the Key West Library

Today, we continue to support the Key West Library through financial and volunteer efforts. We work closely with the library in developing supplemental programs and events that help further their goals and add value to their already incredible services. 

Our supportive programs include our beloved speaker series and annual gala as well as book sales and assistance with other library events. Our speaker series and gala events allow us to provide island literary lovers with exciting opportunities to discover new authors, interact with favorite authors, meet like-minded library patrons and contribute to the meaningful efforts of Key West library.

Last year, we provided a grant of $50,000 to the library. This grant allowed for:

  • Collection Development: Print and digital library collections, language learning software, and streaming services
  • Programming: Fees for performers and speakers for all ages, program supplies, promotional materials, and refreshments
  • Florida History: Digitization and storage fees for rare collections with Digital Public Library of America
  • Staff Development: Participation in library conferences and trainings, professional memberships.

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