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Bruton Library looks to make changes

Libraries such as Bruton Memorial are ever-changing to stay relevant to their users. “I love it here,” said Shelley Schneider.

RICH SHOPES | Times

Libraries such as Bruton Memorial are ever-changing to stay relevant to their users. “I love it here,” said Shelley Schneider.

PLANT CITY — Shelley Schneider likes historical fiction, political commentary and spy novels.

"I'm addicted to this place," she said.

Anne Dempsey enjoys ancient history and mysteries. Stephanie Luke, an English teacher at Durant High School, peruses the sale racks and occasionally checks out a lecture.

Regulars at Bruton Memorial Library in downtown Plant City will get a chance this fall to tell librarians what brings them there and what will keep them coming in years ahead, from adding more meeting space to more and newer books and DVDs.

Bruton will survey visitors as part of an effort to create a strategic plan for 2014 to 2017.

The push isn't new. Libraries regularly turn to surveys to connect with communities. Increasingly, they're adding meeting space, children's programs, lectures, public-use terminals and Wi-Fi — all in a push to stay connected and relevant.

Technology is the splashiest example, but lectures, movies and community programs, from tutoring to job assistance, also show up alongside the stacks.

A study released in January by the Pew Research Center shows that nationwide, more than three-quarters of public libraries offered access to their collections through e-books last year. That's 9 percent higher than the previous year. Additionally, e-book readers are available for checkout at 39 percent of public libraries.

Hillsborough's library system allows access by e-readers. Also, users can download apps to locate books equipped with electronic chips.

"Our traditional service has always been as content providers. It's just that the tools have changed over the years," said Jacquelyn Zebos, manager of administrative and reference services for Hillsborough County's library system."

Hernando County libraries have taken the trend a step further, making Amazon Kindle e-readers available for loan.

Bruton keeps tabs to see which trends have staying power. So far, e-readers remain on the back burner.

Library director Anne Hayward said not enough publishers provide digital content to public libraries, which limits what books library patrons can access through their devices. The publishers cite copyright issues.

Another hot topic: Whether to fashion libraries after book stores with plush couches and coffee bars.

The idea took hold at Winter Haven's library downtown, which has an attached coffee shop, but it's had mixed results elsewhere.

The idea fizzled in South Tampa at the Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library. Generating buzz initially after debuting in 2002, the idea gradually faded. Recently, the library swapped its coffee shop for vending machines.

A survey by Bruton a few years ago found no clear consensus around the topic of coffee and snacks. Half of respondents didn't like the idea, so the library decided not to pursue it.

"It really depends on the location, whether it works," Hayward said. "In Winter Haven . . . they have a lot of foot traffic."

One idea Bruton will implement is using electronic chips to track books and enable users to self-checkout.

Library staff and volunteers will attach the chips to books and other materials starting in the fall. Self-checkout will debut some time next summer. Bruton's collection includes about 100,000 books, DVDs and other items.

Other changes will depend on the strategic plan and what library users say in their surveys.

Among the questions they're likely to be asked are whether users would recommend the library to friends, how important Bruton is to their quality of life and how they use the library — for reading, meetings, tutoring, children's programs, borrowing books or other purposes.

The surveys, which will be conducted inside on computers, will then be used as part of strategic plan.

Still up in the air is whether the library will expand, a subject talked about for years.

City Manager Greg Horwedel said the city is moving toward expanding but is constrained by costs and the fact that two houses sit behind the building.

"Our intent is still to expand the library and at some point add in more computer terminals and more community space," he said. "It just depends on the budget."

Schneider and Dempsey are regular library users. Dempsey, 88, said she doesn't mind the push toward technology and community programs. She just wants to ensure the library's main mission of providing books for loan remains intact.

Schneider, 61, said she reads at least a book a week and made a point of seeing the library before deciding to relocate to Plant City 15 years ago.

"I love it here. The librarians are nice and helpful and they know all the regulars," she said. "My only wish is that it was larger."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Bruton Library looks to make changes 07/17/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 3:59pm]
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