To promote literacy and provide cultural enrichment that enhances the Bay County Library System and strengthens the community.
The Bay County Public Library Foundation, Inc. was incorporated in 1983. The first board of trustees was Irene L. Christo (Chair), Norman Coggeshall (Vice Chair), John R. Middlemas (Secretary), and Earle Thompson, Jr. (Treasurer).
The Foundation was originally fostered by the Friends of the Library, with one primary goal; establish and administer a foundation fund through contributions and endowments from citizens of Bay County.
In 1985 the Foundation was recognized by the IRS as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3), and contributions and endowments to the foundation are tax deductible.
The Foundation has participated in several fundraising campaigns and signature events. The “Vision Through Sculpture” project had a goal of raising funds to establish an endowment for the Foundation and provide a gift to the library. W. Stanley Proctor, renowned sculptor and native Floridian, was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture for the front of the library, which was then located at the Panama City Marina (see photo above). The sculpture was dedicated on January 24, 1995. It currently resides in front of the Bay County Public Library on West 11th Street.
The 2002 Dolphin Splash fundraiser involved artists from across the community who decorated dolphins which were auctioned. Proceeds benefitted the Foundation as well as several other charitable organizations including Girls, Inc., Taunton Children’s Home, Panama City Beach Boys & Girls Club, and the Gulf Coast Community College Foundation.
Residents and visitors to the area can still see the dolphins in libraries and businesses around town. The dolphin pictured lives at the Bay County Public Library.
Perhaps the most well-known signature event of the Foundation was the Books Alive Festival of Reading. An annual event from 1999 – 2016, Books Alive showcased local, regional and nationally known authors.
Past keynote speakers have included several New York Times bestselling authors, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Governor, a United States Congressman, a Presidential candidate, and a “60 Minutes” network producer. Judy Blume (photo right), Rick Bragg, Tim Dorsey, Bob Graham, Steve Berry, Jeff Shaara, Carl Hiaasen, Jeffrey Toobin, Lisa Wingate, Sharon Draper, Kwame Alexander, and Pat Conroy are just some of the authors who presented during Books Alive.
In 2017, the Foundation focused its attention on individual author events and other literary events, offering special presentations throughout the year.
The Foundation installed four stand-alone “Little Free Libraries” throughout the community in 2018. They are strategically located to inspire a love of reading, and offer books available for free, to readers. These small stationary boxes are located for high visibility and easy access to the public and can be visited in historic St. Andrews at the Publishing Museum, on 3rd Street in Millville, the Bay County Senior Center on Frankford Avenue, and the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida on 15th Street.
In the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the Foundation expanded its reading initiative to focus even more on the importance of reading and literacy in our community. To enhance and complement its efforts to provide books via the “Little Free Libraries,” the Foundation was inspired to launch a small bookmobile as a vehicle to give books away, free of charge, to anyone who wanted them, especially children. Thanks to the generosity of a grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation in early 2019, the Foundation’s “Free Library on Wheels,” affectionally called “FLOW,” became a reality. That summer Better World Books donated 20,000 children’s books to stock FLOW. The FSU-PC campus was the venue for a massive sorting task. Initially estimated to take 15 days to accomplish, 120 volunteers completed the job in just 3 ½ days.
FLOW began traveling throughout our community in the fall of 2019. After teaming with the Boys & Girls Club of Bay County, FLOW regularly visits after-school programs at Lucille Moore Elementary, Waller Elementary, and M.K. Lewis Elementary as well as Girls Inc. to give age-appropriate books away, encourage reading and promote literacy. FLOW also regularly delivers books to daycare centers.
FLOW was on hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic but continued to provide books, carefully, via its “Books on the Bus” project, for handout during meal deliveries provided to students on certain bus routes.