You can check out the latest Dean Koontz novel, borrow a collection of Cuban jazz, gather an armful of Disney books for the kids and learn some conversational Mandarin through your local Pasco library. And you don't even have to leave the house.
As e-readers, tablets and iPods have exploded in popularity, the Pasco Library system has beefed up its electronic inventory of books, music, foreign language programs and other databases. All of their resources can be accessed from any home computer, at any hour — as long as you have a library card.
Mary Lyn Fucell, 69, stays close to home in Holiday as the primary caregiver to her husband. She is thrilled by 24-hour access to download her favorite "go-away books."
"I'm devouring mysteries and adventure stories every week," she said. "I've discovered new authors and audiobooks that I may never have noticed had I gone into the library. Lee Child mysteries and the Stephenie Meyer series are like candy to me."
Dave Mather, an administrator at the Pasco library system, reports that more than 1 million books were checked out last year. But it is downloads from the user-friendly website pascolibraries.org that have librarians multitasking.
"Our acquisition librarians make monthly selections among classics and new titles," Mather said. "The current inventory of e-books is 20,953 and last year there were 48,136 downloads. On the cusp of more technology we expect that number to grow."
The library website is a valuable resource for Heather Sweeten, 37, who has four pages of titles on her wish list. Sweeten is constantly hunting for healthy eating and arts and crafts books to share with disabled patients during her social work in east Pasco. She also enjoys watching travel programs and classic Cary Grant films that she orders over the website.
"I mostly use the Web page for searches," said Sweeten, who lives in Zephyrhills. "I scan the listings for available books and magazines and fax my requests on the last day of the month to Angelo Liranzo at the Dade City branch. The next morning they're ready for me to pick up."
Liranzo, branch manager of the Hugh Embry Library in Dade City, oversees the smallest collection in the Pasco County Library system, with about 48,000 hardcover titles. But with the introduction of e-books and other digital collections, Liranzo is dedicated to training patrons to access books, periodicals, music and research materials.
"I remember the early days when I was like a fish out of water," Liranzo said. "Now I feel totally connected to the future."
Pasco Libraries co-administrator Nancy Fredericks credits a co-op of 118 public and academic systems for creating the huge expansion and popularity of virtual libraries. It comes at a time when the world of digital books is in an exciting state of flux. Publishers still are determining how to best protect their financial interests.
"As a member of the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, we conduct collective purchasing," Fredericks said. "We obtain our digital media catalog from OverDrive, a service provider connecting libraries to cooperating publishers."
Fredericks said this year the county library system is spending $465,200 on books, $23,215 on e-books and $30,000 on audio books.
"For libraries, the cost of downloadable e-books is currently a little higher than the cost of hardcopy titles," Liranzo said. "It was anticipated that the cost of e-books would be much lower than that of hardcopy books from the outset. But e-books are more expensive than hardcopy because we don't yet get volume discounts or other incentives."
The Gale Power Search database is another useful feature of the library's website. It offers Medline and Lexis-Nexis medical and legal research ports; Heritage Quest to trace family histories; Tumblebooks for interactive early childhood learning; and the Learning Express Library for test preparations, plus access to all governmental sites.
Multilingual Liranzo endorses the Mango program for online language learning.
"The old standards are Spanish, French, German, Greek and Italian," he said. "Mango also offers languages that are anticipated to have ever-increasing dominance on the global stage such as Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Japanese.
"Best of all, none of these databases are laden with Web page features," Liranzo adds. "They're a portal for self-teaching and a gateway to success."