Jacksonville Public Library celebrates the St. Johns

In the past, the St. Johns River has not received as much attention as it probably should have. Well, that’s not a problem right now at the Jacksonville Public Library! According to Stacie Bucher, JPL’s Marketing Communications Manager, the library took a cue from one of Mayor Peyton’s three major initiatives for the remainder of his term in planning their programming. Library Supervisor Alisha Levasseur said, “…we decided to go with a whole year-long approach and do it from March to the following March and just call it ‘Year of the River’ because March is River Month.”
The library then planned a year of river focused lectures, exhibits and programs to be held at the Main Library at 303 North Laura Street. The current exhibit, “The River As We See It – ARTifacts & Photographs,” opened during the July 1 downtown Art Walk and closes on July 31. JPL partnered with Environmental Services Inc. and University of North Florida Coastal Biology for the exhibit.
Environmental Services Inc. is an environmental consulting service “specializing in ecology, site assessment and remediation, archaeology, forestry, Water and Riverine Systems and GIS [Geographic Information Systems] predictive modeling services” among other things. The library seems to have taken to heart a quote from ESI’s website, “You’re only as good as the organizations you align yourself with and the team you build,” as the philosophy for its programs. “The River As We See It – ARTifacts & Photographs” exhibit is an endeavor of serious interdisciplinary teamwork.
The exhibit includes photographs of a UNF Coastal Biology professor and his students at work on the banks of the St. Johns studying sharks and rays. Director of the Coastal Biology program at UNF, Courtney Hackney, Ph.D., says invovlement in the project “is part of our outreach effort,” and went on to explain that they’re raising awarness of both river pollution and the efforts being made to clean up that pollution. The exhibit also includes artifacts uncovered in, or on the banks of, the river by ESI archaeologists. Brent Handley, Vice President of Environmental Services Inc., says that his “role here is bringing a little bit of the culture, prehistoric and historic culture, surrounding the river to this exhibit.” Finally, in addition to the science and history covered in the exhibit, Paul Ladnier, Associate Professor of Drawing & Painting at UNF’s Department of Art and Design, offers an artistic impression of the river. His ten paintings depicting the river are dreamy impressions of vistas dominated by light and shadow. Ladnier had this to say of the St. Johns, which he’s been painting for 30 years: “I think it’s a resource that needs to be protected. It’s underappreciated; not many people really realize what a beautiful, powerful, amazing resource we have.”
Along with the visual exhibit, there is a “lunch and lecture” series held in the library’s conference center. On Wednesday, July 15, Brent Handley, Archaeology Division Director for Environmental Services, presented “The Prehistory of the Lower St. Johns River” and Dr. Dale Casamatta, of UNF’s Coastal Biology program, presented “The Current State of the St. Johns River.” There will be one more lunch and lecture program associated with “The River As We See It – ARTifacts & Photographs” that will be held on Wednesday, July 29, from Noon-1 pm. Cara Connolly, Operations & Ecology Manager for Environmental Services Inc., will be presenting “Manatees of the St. Johns River.”
The library has, as always, included special programs for kids. A partnership with the St. Johns Riverkeeper led to children’s story times and poetry readings being held on the river taxi, and the library’s Teen Department is sponsoring a literary zine “to chronicle young people’s vision and opinions about the St. Johns River.” Entries for this juried anthology of poems, drawings, photos or stories are due to the Teen Department by August 22.
Upcoming programs in the library’s “Year of the River” include two exhibits opening during Art Walk on August 5. For this “Night of the River” gala, the library is partnering with Tree Hill Nature Center to bring in three nature artists who will be conducting a lecture during the day. Their art will be featured in the 3rd floor exhibition space throughout August. The exhibit “The Florida Ballet Comes Home to Port” is the result of a partnership with Jaxport and the Florida Ballet. Related photographs will be exhibited throughout the month and, on the night of August 5, the library will host the Florida Ballet dancers. Stanton – River Bank Rowing, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Jacksonville Maritime Museum will also be involved in the event.
On Wednesday, August 12, at 6 pm, the library will present “City of Bridges.” This “in-depth look at these magnificent structures and their impact on the First Coast” will be held in the Main Library’s Hicks Auditorium. An introductory lecture by noted local historian, Dr. Jim Crooks, will be followed by a screening of the WJCT-produced documentary City of Bridges. Attendees will also get a chance to discuss the film with its producers.
A calendar of “Year of the River” events can be found at http://jaxpubliclibrary.org/progs/jpl/year-of-the-river2009.html.