A living history at the Destin Library

Savannah Chastain
Jurate Burns celebrates her 15th Anniversary at the Destin Library. In her spare time, Burns still likes to read, and listen to audio books. “I probably read just as much as I used to. I read three books a month and listen to about two or three audio books a month,” she said.

Jurate Burns moved to Destin in 1979, following her husband’s job relocation, and one year later she became librarian for the Destin Library.

“It was a volunteer position at that time, supported by the Friends of the Library organization,” said Burns. “What is now the Destin Community Center is where the library thrift store was; that is how so many libraries started out years ago.”

Burns told The Log that the old Destin Library was housed in what is now the Destin Fishing and History Museum, and that it worked as a community supported organization until 1984 when the city hired the first paid librarian.

“It worked as sort of a hybrid organization for awhile as it was a city library heavily supported by the sale of used books, clothing and that sort of thing,” she said. “This was a time period where volunteerism truly made our community tick.”

Burns gave up her volunteer position in 1980 to focus on her children, but after a nearly 20-year break from the library scene, she returned as head librarian in 1999.    

“When I started in April of ‘99, we were still in the old building, but the city had already bought this land,” Burns said referencing the lot where the current library stands at 150 Sibert Avenue. “We started planning with the architect, broke ground in 2001, and opened this place up in 2003.”

The new building was nearly three times the size of the original Destin library, at 13,327 square feet; however, Burns explained that the actual number of books did not increase by much after the move. The added space has instead been utilized for new programs and technology demands.

“When I got here, there was only one public computer and it was not connected to the internet,” Burns said. “It was strictly for viewing CD-ROMs of National Geographic.”

Burns added that within a month of her arrival at the library, the internet became so essential that they had to reinvent themselves quickly to accommodate the new demand.

Today, the Destin library boasts 21 public access computers, a dedicated computer lab, and offers wireless internet to library patrons who wish to bring their personal devices.

“Some of the biggest challenges now are keeping up with technology, because everything is so expensive, and always changing,” Burns said.

By 1999, even the library cataloging system had switched from card files to a computer interface and Burns, who holds a masters degree in Library Science, had to learn on her feet.

“It was a change of course for me,” said Burns. “I hadn’t been working in the library for years and I had to be open-minded.”

The obsolete card filing cabinets can still be found in the Destin library and have now been incorporated into functional tables.

“I keep them here to show kids how we used to look up books,” said Burns. “A lot of them don’t know how we used to do it.”

Although the ever-changing technology keeps evolving at the library, some things remain the same.

“One thing that hasn’t changed much is the structure,” said Burns. “This building was so well designed that it’s flexible for moving things around to give good visibility.”

Burns said that visibility, lighting, and even acoustics add to the relaxed atmosphere of the library.

When asked what makes the library truly a Destin landmark, Burns had no trouble finding an answer. Walking throughout the library, she pointed out historical furniture that has been donated by locals, pictures hanging on the wall of the Calhoun family, paintings by Destin’s most notable artists, and even a section of books from the original Destin library of the 1940’s from the private collection of Fred Zerbe.

“I want to organize the historical items that are stored here at the library,” said Burns. “It’s important that these things are labeled and preserved, so I’m making that my ultimate goal before I retire.”

As for the Destin of today, Burns wandered into the children’s reading room where a mural depicting exclusively native sea life surrounds the room.

“This is the room for children under four years old, and it really surprises me that these little ones will point to the painting and say, there’s that kind of snapper over there, or that type of fish over there,” she said.

Celebrating her 15-year anniversary at the Destin Library, and her 35th year in Destin, Burns reflects on what she loves most at the Destin library.

“The variety of people from locals to tourists and snowbirds to international students,” she said. “The variety of people, and the fact that I learn something new everyday. It’s a really fun place to be, and it’s a fun job because no two days are alike.”