More than halfway through summer, a lot of parents are starting to run out of ways to entertain the kids, or at least running out of affordable ones. With that in mind we turn to the humble local library. An air-conditioned space full of helpmates who are eager to pique your kid's curiosity and often willing to bring in steel drums to do it. • Gone are the days of shushing little ones. Libraries these days have perks like digitized music in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties that let you download three free tunes per week through Freegal. You'll also find toddler play time, computer classes for seniors, language lessons, family history workshops and demonstrations by puppeteers, artists and musicians. • It's impossible to list all the bay area libraries and their cool events, but here's a look at a few of our favorites. Check your local library's website for a lot more.
West St. Petersburg Community Library
Located on what St. Petersburg College calls its Gibbs campus on 66th Street N and Fifth Avenue in the Azalea neighborhood of St. Petersburg, this city library partnership with the college provides a great range of library materials and services. The large building, at 50,000 square feet, has one of the bigger kid zones, an 8,000 square foot marine-themed youth area. It also has 90 computers with high-speed Internet access, a cafe to buy coffee and snacks and a shiny new playground kids can climb on out back that is open dawn to dusk.
• Toddler Tunes: Tuesdays from 9:30 to 10 a.m. the Library Storytime Room gets lively with stories, fingerplays, puppet shows and songs for ages 3 and younger.
• Preschool Jams: At 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays bigger kids come by for stories, songs and puppets.
• Teen Nights Thursdays: Aug. 2 is the next one, from 6 to 8 p.m. with games and fun such as board games or trivia challenges for ages 12-19.
If you go
The library is at 6700 Eighth Ave. N St. Petersburg. Check the www.splibraries.org for hours because it changes when the college is not in session and it's closed on Sundays.
Tampa's John F. Germany Public Library
The flagship library of the Hillsborough County library system has a huge catalog, but what we most like to browse is its range of DVDs, books on CD, magazines and music — more than you'll find at community branches. If it's lattes and overstuffed couches you want, then sorry, this isn't your place. But it does have a permanent art collection and rotating exhibits, as well as a variety of fun and educational programs. This library could be a part of a great day trip because of its location right next to the Glazer Children's Museum (with its $2 admission deal coming up Aug. 7) and the fun fountain play area and playground at Curtis Hixon Park.
• Silly Sam: This Saturday the hugely popular Silly Sam returns at 2 p.m. to get kids dancing, singing and playing music in his interactive music and magic show.
• Drum Circle Magic: Aug. 2 at 10:30 a.m. you can dance, laugh, sing and enjoy the magic of community and teamwork while playing drums with Giving Tree Music. Designed for ages 5 to 12 but anyone can join in.
• 2nd Annual Teen Film Festival: They will roll out the red carpet for teen filmmakers Aug. 11 at 2 p.m., and screen the best films submitted in the library's contest. The Best Picture winner gets a $100 gift card and two additional nominees will each receive a $50 gift card. There will also be prizes for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Visual Effects. Refreshments will be provided. Film entries accepted through July 31. For entry details visit teens.hcplc.org.
If you go
The library is at 900 N Ashley Drive in Tampa. It is open seven days a week. See www.hcplc.org for hours and its huge list of programs and events.
New Tampa Regional Library
The New Tampa library on Cross Creek is clean and bright and roomy with 25,000 square feet. Large glass panels offer a great view of the pond and fountain behind the library and it has loads of cool spots to sit, relax and read. An inviting kids area has bookcases at just the right height for little ones and a separate children's room for Mommy and Me story time. There's also a healthy selection of audio books and DVDs and many events ranging from Baby Sign classes to teen movie nights.
• Every Friday at 1 p.m. they play a kid-friendly movie such as this week's feature Dick Tracy, or next week's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
• Every Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. the children's librarians lead a ramped-up story time with games and crafts for ages 10 and under.
• Every Wednesday at 11 a.m. a performer is brought in. This Wednesday it's the Wonders of Nature show in which the Lowry Park Zoo brings in some of its animals.
If you go
The library is at 10001 Cross Creek Blvd. (813) 273-3652. It is open seven days a week. See www.hcplc.org for hours and a calendar of events.
Largo Public Library
The two-story building itself is inviting and gorgeous with a beautiful reading area on the outside grounds with a tiny running waterfall. There's a Starbucks-style cafe at the entrance and they even let you bring along your coffee while you browse the stacks. It's very child friendly (they have a summer camp with kids spending the summer inside the library) and patron friendly, with a drive-through window to pick up the books you've reserved online. They go out of their way to offer loads of programs, more than you'd find in most small-town libraries. It's also located near one of the area's best parks, Largo Central Park, which has a huge playground shaded by oak trees.
• Fritzy Brothers: On Friday at 2 p.m. see circus stunts, comedy, unicycle acts, juggling, globe walking, and much more.
• Pup Pals Reading Dogs: On Saturdays at 10 a.m. kids can improve their reading skills by reading aloud to therapy trained dogs.
If you go
The library is next to Largo Central Park at 120 Central Park Drive. It is closed Sundays. See LargoPublicLibrary.org for hours and events calendar.
East Lake Community Library
This Palm Harbor library is famous for its Lego program held in a brand spanking new auditorium. It's small but the staff is welcoming and the setting is cozy.
• Lego Club: For ages 4 and up, kids come up with some fantastic Lego creations every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. The library is in the process of starting a Lego robotics Mindstorm club for ages 12 and up, so stay tuned.
• Hunger Games Challenge: Middle-schoolers are invited to participate in the Hunger Games challenge. Bring friends and survival skills at 4 p.m. Aug. 11.
• Origami Club: Fridays at 10:30 a.m., kids can learn the art of turning paper into birds, flowers or other works of art.
If you go
The library is at 4125 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor. It is closed Sundays and recently reduced its nighttime hours on some days because of budget cuts. See www.eastlakelibrary.org for hours and events calendar.
Hudson Regional Library
This Pasco County library has excelled in its teen programs, especially the award-winning Rockus Maximus, a battle of the bands that's been going on for 15 years, making use of YouTube and online voting to get teens to vote for their favorite (and in the process caused a spike in teen library use). The program in 2010 won the American Library Association's prestigious John Cotton Dana Award to honor libraries that come up with innovative ways to market themselves. Hudson is one of the smallest libraries to win such an award, and so beset by budget cuts it has had to rely on donors to keep Rockus Maximus going. Though the library may be small by the ALA's standards, it's big in Pasco County. Housed in a modern, 32,640-square-foot facility, it has an impressive sweeping entry with columns and a series of windows high above that bring in lots of natural light to roomy spaces where kids can peruse its collection of graphic novels and anime.
• Free popcorn and movies on Friday at 2 p.m. to see Tooth Fairy 2
• Thursdays toddlers arrive at 11:15 a.m. and preschoolers come in at noon for story times that are filled with finger play, dancing and songs.
If you go
The library is at 8120 Library Road in Hudson. It is closed Sunday and Monday. See pascolibraries.org for hours and an event calendar.