Palm Beach County libraries mark 50 years of service

BELLE GLADE — The Palm Beach County Library System celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday, Sept. 23, with events at each of its 17 branch locations. The day marked a half-century since the first county system library, in Tequesta, opened to the public.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Geddy the Gecko and live music with Mr. Noam entertain the children of Belle Glade Elementary School’s first grade Saturday, Sept. 21. The Palm Beach County Library System hosted a 50th anniversary celebration at Belle Glade’s and other county branch locations.

At the Belle Glade branch, 725 N.W. Fourth St., everyone was invited — and officials brought in elementary school classes — to enjoy a show put on in the auditorium by Geddy the Gecko and musician Mr. Noam. Afterward, the kids and parents devoured cupcakes and downed refreshments while learned about the many programs offered through the library system, both inside the library and, via the bookmobiles and online, from outside.

The history of library services in the Glades region, however, goes back much further — decades, in fact.

Library System Director Douglas Crane explained: “Actually there’s been 90 years of service in Belle Glade, but it’s been moved from different spot to different spot. When I came on board 20 years ago, it was around the corner. And then in our expansion program voters approved back in 2002, one of the priorities was to replace the Belle Glade library with its own dedicated, new building and because the community center had been damaged in one of the hurricanes, there’s an agreement with the municipality for the community center, too.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Andrew Reid (left) was commissioned to paint the library’s murals and create one in glass, as well, when the Belle Glade Branch Library moved to its new permanent location in 2013. System Director Doug Crane is at right.

He said that was either during the string of Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004 or in October 2005 — “I know Wilma did a lot of damage out here. Our Pahokee branch was severely damaged in Wilma and it became the first project to get under way because we had to rebuild it,” he said.

Belle Glade’s and Pahokee’s libraries were municipal libraries first, and then they joined the county system. Mr. Crane recounted, “In 1984 the system was set up through a special act of the Florida Legislature. We are a department of county government but we are also our own independent tax district; and it was meant to cover the unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County but also an open invitation for the municipalities to join. So we have 24 municipalities in the library system. Belle Glade’s was an independent but in ’84 they decided it would be beneficial to join.”

The county system’s Glades Branches, also including the Loula V. York Branch Library, 11 miles away, and the Clarence E. Anthony Branch Library 5 miles down the road in South Bay, serve the roughly 38,000 residents of the agricultural, rural western areas. The next nearest library is in Royal Palm Beach, 32 miles away.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
This is the mural in glass that Andrew Reid created for the children’s reading room at the Belle Glade Branch Library.

The Belle Glade branch building is 17,000 square feet and opened in March 2013 across from Lake Shore Middle School. It features gigantic, colorful murals titled “Contemporary Belle Glade” depicting scenes from “life on the muck.” There are informational placards hanging on the walls near the murals to explain their many components; there are 25 distinct ones in the main reading room drawing.

Andrew Reid was commissioned to produce the murals that grace the naturally lighted main bookshelf rooms, and he was present for the festivities Wednesday.

Go online to pbclibrary.org/branches/belle-glade to learn more about the offerings and programs available.

About the project, Mr. Reid said: “Like all public projects, you start before the place is built. I worked with the interior designer, because the color schemes hadn’t been planned then. I think the architecture was pretty much set.”

It was a long process, he explained.

“It was a competitive process. We did a proposal; it was up to the artist to decide where the work would go; and our proposal was for two murals, and there’s a glass-paneling mural you’ll see in the other, children’s room.

“The actual work took me quite a few months, because you know, the research … I don’t really start drawing even, until I’m comfortable with all my information. So this one took me probably three months just researching, coming up to Belle Glade and interviewing kids, mainly kids, going to the schools. We handed out a questionnaire to the community … but one part that was difficult was the local African American community was difficult to engage. Same with the Latino and Haitian communities.”

But he and his helpers were able to do so through the school system. Still, “It was a lot of work!” he remembered.

To reach the Belle Glade Branch Library, call 561-996-3453.

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