The History of the Friends of the Ocala Public Library.
by Ken Tipper
July 31, 2004, was a red letter day for staff and patrons of the Marion County Public Library. The former Kash N’ Karry supermarket had been magically transformed into a beautiful main library for all to enjoy. The grand opening celebration was kicked off with a parade from the old library downtown, with participants symbolically carrying books to the new facility.
There was another group of book lovers equally ecstatic about the new building. To the Friends of the Ocala Public Library, it meant that no longer would they have to search for a place to hold their annual book sale, which had been their primary means of raising funds for the library for some 23 years. In the foyer of the new building was their very own book store, which meant that they could hold a book sale year round.
The Friends, formed in 1980 under the leadership of Fran Kolonia held their first book sale in the Cascades office building in 1981. Friends member Barbara West, together with a group of volunteers, took on the task of organizing the book store, which quickly became a haven for booklovers. Currently, there are some 38 volunteers, under the direction of volunteer and Friends Board member Pat Anderson, who work in the store in two- hour shifts from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Over the years, the Friends have made significant donations to the library. For example, the new building was the beneficiary of a $250,000 grant for the furnishing of three meeting rooms, including a sound system, and staff lounge. The library children’s department, which caters to many children with numerous events, is also a favorite of the Friends when it comes to distributing their largesse. Other funds go to educational grants for library staff, and the Friends recently purchased a storage building for the library. A marketing plan, aimed at promoting the activities and services of the library system, was also funded.
A regular Friends event is the sponsorship of speakers for their monthly programs with well-known authors. Library Director Julie Sieg says it best when singing the praises of the Friends. “We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the members of the Friends of the Ocala Public Library,” says Sieg, “They work tirelessly to plan programs, operate the book store, talk to legislators, and act as ambassadors for the library within the community.”