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County library system wins state honor

Single book lovers can try to meet someone special through speed dating.

Teenagers can compete to win a recording contract in the annual Battle of the Bands.

And kids with disabilities can check out playthings from the adaptive toy collection to help improve their communication and sensory skills.

Those innovative offerings were among the reasons the Pasco County Library System was named 2008 Library of the Year by the Florida Library Association.

"It was a combination of the events and extensive programs and their excellent public awareness materials," said Ruth O'Donnell, executive director of the Tallahassee-based association.

O'Donnell declined to say how many other libraries were in the running but praised Pasco's newsletter and online programs.

"They do a great job of keeping the community informed of what services are available," she said.

It's the second time in recent years that a local library has won the award.

The New Port Richey Library won Library of the Year in 2005-06 for its programming, which included online book clubs and computer classes.

Linda Bragg, spokeswoman for the Pasco County Library System, said she heard about the competition in February. Along with the application form, Bragg submitted samples of the library's calendar of events, reading posters and examples of its most notable offerings.

Pasco also has a new program that helped secure the win: the federally funded E-Government program.

Using a $250,000 matching grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Pasco library officials have appointed an "E-Government librarian" who will undergo training at state conferences on how to help patrons find government services online, such as food stamps or Social Security benefits. That librarian will then train other librarians on those skills.

"The strength of their nomination included their E-Government services to the public," O'Donnell said. "They have led the state in honing their skills to that need. They were certainly first in the state."

The idea was prompted last year by statewide budget cuts that closed government offices and forced people to go online to find social service help, said Stephen Kershner, assistant libraries director for public services.

"Children and family services closed branches and said, 'Go to our Web site,' " Kershner said. "We see that as an opportunity for service at public libraries."

But the library system, like other parts of local government, is facing its own budget cuts now.

Bragg said library officials will have to cut about 10 percent of the library's $7-million budget. So far, the library system is down five librarians and one shelver, saving the county $211,000. Those positions stayed vacant this year while library officials anticipated cuts.

Bragg isn't sure what the other cuts could be.

"We will probably have to cut back, but we won't cut out the programs," Bragg said.

Bragg is preparing to accept the Library of the Year award Friday during the association's annual conference in St. Petersburg.

"It's such a surprise to me," Bragg said. "I'm thrilled."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

1,000 Average number of patrons who visit each Pasco library branch a day.

228,528 Number of Pasco residents who have a library card

57 Percent of the county population that uses the library.

County library system wins state honor 04/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 3:28pm]
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