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The Gulfport Library opens its reading garden, an idea designed to further define a changing resource.

With apologies to Virginia Woolf: Local book lovers now have a garden of their own.

Designed by Gulfport landscape architect Christopher "Toffer" Ross, the Gulfport Public Library's Reading Garden encompasses 1,500 square feet just outside the library's large bay window. It includes brightly colored tables and chairs and a large live oak that provides optimum shade in the summer. Once the landscaping is complete, the library's outdoor extension will feature 12 types of plants and flowers native to Florida. Ross, who is also chairwoman of the city's historic preservation committee, thinks outdoor spaces are the next hot topic for libraries.

"Libraries are having to redefine themselves in this age of electronic literacy, and part of that redefinition involves adding multiuse outdoor space,'' she said. "Gulfport's Reading Garden is on the cutting edge of that shift. Gardens such as ours offer a contemplative space where anyone can take their laptop, a book or any electronic device and enjoy the shade of an old oak tree. City libraries have always been places where people gather. Now, Gulfport has a natural place for the community to gather."

Ross has overseen the project since its inception less than a year ago, and has never known a public works project to move so quickly through the process.

"Everyone who we've had to deal with has been incredibly supportive," said Ross, who has donated her design and project management services to the library.

The $25,000 necessary to pay for the garden's construction came from the library's reserve fund, comprised of memorials and donations made to the city and designated for the library, according to city Administrator David Mather.

The Reading Garden is the realization of a long-held dream for the Gulfport Library's Circle of Friends. The organization, whose mission is to enhance the library's services and encourage support for literacy, is chaired by Phyllis Plotnick, who predicts the community will fall in love with the library's new outdoor space.

"There is no more beautiful spot in Gulfport to sit and read a book than in this garden," she said during the recent soft opening. "Everyone in Gulfport can enjoy this beautiful space. It's a perfect extension to our library."