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Quiet little library puts folks first

Nestled in scrub oaks off the beaten path in Aripeka is a jewel of information that illustrates how determination and belief in oneself can lead to success.

Since 1959, the Aripeka Public Library has housed books, provided a meeting place and served as a source of inspiration in this small coastal community on the Hernando-Pasco county line.

While other public libraries battle for tax dollars and grant money, the Aripeka library has survived for 35 years without any such assistance. Its major source of income is an annual flea market, which takes place this weekend.

You won't find a fancy computer check-out system _ they still use cards _ or expensive collections at the library. In fact, all of the books were donated. The only books ever purchased were a set of encyclopedias that cost $500.

But residents do find friendly smiles on the faces of the volunteers and fudge and apples waiting on the tables when they visit the library.

The library's longevity and independence are a testament to the involvement of local residents, and secretary Lila Bowman.

"I think Aripeka has been different in that, regardless of whether a person had the time or the energy to come to the library, whether or not they could even see to read. When it came time to pay dues, they coughed up two bucks so that they could support us," Bowman said. "I don't think you can find that in many places."

Bowman said the modest block building at 18834 Rosemary Road originally housed a first aid station. In the late 1950s, resident George Lowenstein bought the building for about $800 and started the library.

Even then, residents pitched in, holding fish fries and fund-raisers to cover costs, said Bowman. Eventually, the mortgage was paid off.

As a result, the library is now able to operate on a budget of $200 to $300 a year, from which the volunteer board of directors pays the insurance, electricity and lawn maintenance. All other expenses are covered by donations and volunteers.

For example, as a part of their membership, children are asked to help check in books and clean. In return, they are allowed to use the library as a gathering place with friends after school. In addition, volunteers reward them with parties.

This year's flea market will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Aripeka Community Club, 1393 Osowaw Blvd. The need to raise money is great, Bowman said, but donations are down because of the coastal flood last March.

She said the library lost about 1,000 books in the flood that the directors are trying to replace. However, atop her wish list is a space heater. "Ours got ruined in the flood," Bowman said.

In addition, the library needs books, furniture, additional volunteers and cash donations.

Anyone wanting to donate items for the flea market, or who would like to make other donations, can call Bowman at 597-3480. Items for the flea market also may be dropped off at the community club.