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Florida Keys Building The First New Library In Decades (And Yes, It'll Be Hurricane-Proof)

Monroe County
An artist rendering of the new library in Marathon, which is scheduled to be complete in fall of 2020.

It's been decades since Monroe County opened a new library branch. And even longer since the county built a library. That is about to change.

Construction began on a new library in Marathon last month.

"This is designed to be a legacy building, at least fifty years - I'd love to see it last 100," said Kimberly Matthews, senior director of strategic planning.

She says the new library is being built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and it will be 2 feet above flood level.

"The library and technology departments are focused on acquiring all the things we need to make that shell that's being built, that facility that's being built, to instill the soul into it that is the library," Matthews said.

The new building, across the street from the current Marathon branch, will share space with the Monroe County School district to provide adult education classes. It will also have raised floors so changing the wiring or the layout doesn't require major construction. And it will have flexible, moveable furniture for bookshelves and seating.

While many people still get books from libraries, they've also become providers of free internet access to the public. That's important when everything from job applications to filing income taxes is increasingly going online.

"Libraries, though they have changed, they continue to be that great equalizer within our society and our democracy. Fifty years ago it might have been books and magazines that someone couldn't afford to have in their home. Today it's the internet," said Matthews, a former assistant director of the Miami-Dade Public Library.

Though construction has already started, Matthews said the county is actively seeking suggestions about how to use the new library when it opens.

"As far as services that we're going to offer, programs that people would like to see, that won't even be finished once the library's open," she said. "That's the great thing about libraries. It is designed to be user-centric. It is designed to be the community-centric. And if the community would like to see programs five years from now that the library's not offering, all they need to do is talk to the library staff and that's how things happen."

The $7 million project is expected to be finished in a little more than a year.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.