LARGO — Crystal Osinoski maneuvered the stroller carrying her daughter, Agatha, through the children's wing of the Largo Library. As she pushed it, she juggled several library books, her wallet and keys, and an assortment of toddler toys, while coaxing her son, Jude, to follow along.
Osinoski is the first to admit that her life right now is a balancing act. However, when she brings Agatha, 1, and Jude, 4, for their weekly visit to the library, she enjoys, for a precious moment, a place she describes as "smooth and organized.''
"The Largo Library is wonderful. We love to come here, and the library always seems to run smoothly,'' she said.
However, what Osinoski and other patrons of the library do not know is that the library's computer system, which has successfully handled 6,000 checkouts in the last seven years, is outdated.
To keep things running smoothly, Largo Library Director Casey McPhee is preparing to spend $257,600 on a new check-in/check-out system, officially called a radio frequency identification, or RFID, system. The bulk of the expense is being covered by a $225,000 donation from the Friends of the Largo Library.
The new system will be in place sometime in May.
Although self-checkout is already available at the library, the new system will handle not only Largo Library materials but also library system loan materials too.
And also for the first time, patrons will be able to pay library fines at the self-checkout stations with a swipe of a credit card.
Another tool for keeping things running smoothly: The library is preparing to install an automated materials handler. Currently, items returned to the library are sorted manually.
"Under the new system, once a patron returns the material in the return slot, it will move down a conveyor belt and be placed in a particular bin to be shelved by our staff,'' McPhee explained.
New security gates will also be installed at the library's entrance.
At the beginning of May, the library will close to the public for several days so the equipment can be installed. The staff will tag every item with its own RFID chip that can be read by the new system.
One of the greatest benefits of the new system is that the staff, which has shrunk to 41 full-time employees from 60 since the library opened in 2005, will have more time to spend directly with patrons wanting assistance.
"Back when we opened, we had more staff and fewer patrons,'' McPhee said. "Now we have less staff and even more visitors. The new RFID system will help us catch up.''
On Feb. 5, McPhee received unanimous approval for the purchase from the Largo City Commission. After the $225,000 donation from the Friends, the remaining $32,600 will come out of the city's general fund.
For Osinoski, it's difficult to imagine that so much money needs to be spent at the library "that is running so well,'' she said. "But since it's a donation and not so much taxpayer money, I think it's okay. I wouldn't cut staff anymore to do it, but since it's a donation, that's fine.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.