Close this search box.

Our History

Our History

Special Thanks to Claudine Kriss for her Contribution to this Section

It has been 50 years since 28 people met, elected officers and officially became the Friends of Pensacola Library, now known as the Friends of West Florida Public Library. The purpose was to support the library system with additional funding and promotional activities.  In 1973, the following officers were elected: Rovena Lee Hillsman, President; Lynn Hayes, Membership Vice President; Connie Thomas, Programs Vice president; Pat Ashton, Secretary; Cornelia Harbison, Treasurer; Betty Rubin, Parliamentarian.  Early that year, the Friends held a used book sale in conjunction with the News Journal Charity Fair at the new University Mall, organized by Marian Jennings.  Lana Servies was not a member at the time but recalls the sale because she worked at B. Dalton Books in University Mall.  The book sale was set up in front of one of the empty stores.  Ms. Servies, who has worked with books most of her adult life, joined the Friends in the early ‘80s and currently continues to volunteer at books sales.

Harriet Major took over in the 1980s and organized the sales for 15 years before turning over the reins to Carol Fleddermann in 1997.   In 2007, Meredith McCarthy took over the book sales until Linda Williams became the chair in 2013.  The sales moved from University Mall to tents in the parking lot of the downtown library, to the Bayfront Auditorium, to the Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds to the Wright Place at First United Methodist Church.  Since 2015, sales have been held in the newly renovated downtown library. 

In the early years, the Friends collected, sorted and stored donated books for the sales at the garage at the main library on Gregory Street.  In 2011, the downtown library underwent a major renovation, and the garage was no longer available. The Friends spent the next several years moving book sorting and storage from one location to another, including the old Clubbs Elementary School and county property in Brownsville.  In 2016, the Friends purchased a large warehouse which has become our permanent book storage and sorting location.  

In April 2012, Escambia County faced a $6.2 million budget deficit due to disputed Medicaid bills that had been accumulating for over a decade. The county administrator suggested using the library budget to pay the debt which could have resulted in the possible closure of many, if not all, library branches.  Dozens of Friends members attended local County Commissioner, City Council and Legislative meetings in Tallahassee to protest the proposal.  The proposal to use the library budget was not approved and libraries were not affected. Construction on the new Molino branch, which was halted in the middle of construction, resumed and the branch was completed in 2013.  Long-time Molino resident Ruth Gordon believes the help of the Friends eventually made the establishment of the Molino branch a reality. Gordon, a retired schoolteacher, had joined forces with Lil King, President of Molino Historical Society, to establish a Community Center in the old Molino Elementary School building. The community center now contains the Historical Society and the Molino Library.  

In 2015, as part of the renovated downtown library, the Friends were given space to open a permanent bookstore.  The Friends opened a 2nd bookstore at the Tryon library and in 2023, the Friends opened a small store in the new Bellview branch that uses the honor system to collect payment.  Book sales and bookstore revenues, combined with a few grants and other donations, has allowed the Friends to raise approximately $2 million to the West Florida Public Library system.  The library has used those funds to hire a children’s library part-time assistant, provide Youth Summer Programs, host numerous other children’s activities, purchase needed library supplies and new furniture for all library branches.  

On October 20, 2023, the Friends celebrated our 50-year anniversary with a Gala at Sanders Beach Community Center.  The event was hosted by Sue Straughn from Channel 3 News, music was provided by the Curt Bol Band and author Craig Pittman gave a presentation on his book  “Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country”.  Approximately 200 people attended and the night was filled with plenty of food, fun and prizes!  Volunteers were recognized and appreciated, and Volunteer of the Year awards were presented.  Fun was had by all as we celebrated our past, enjoyed our current successes and looked forward to the future.