GULFPORT — The city's library is about to get a facelift. Long a literary hub within the community, the library will undergo a series of renovations, thanks in part to a $180,000 grant from the Pinellas County Library Cooperative. An additional $69,000 from the Gulfport library's special reserve fund and $101,000 in proposed city money will provide a total of $350,000 of physical improvements.
The library has not seen any significant renovations since 1994.
"Gulfport was largely comprised of retirees and snowbirds in the '90s," said David Mather, the library administrator. "The digital revolution was still rather young then, and the library had only one computer. Since, we have added nine more computers for the public, and four for catalog searches wherever we could find room. Now we're seeing more families and students using the facility, and a growing LGBT community means we need to expand our collection.
"The renovations will make the space more coherent, better in touch with the city's changing demographics and the needs of our patrons."
Changes include a secure children's area and a better-defined teen section.
"Currently, our teen area consists of a table in the children's section. The new space will provide a dedicated space where students can come after school to do their homework," Mather said.
Electrical upgrades will increase wireless access throughout the building, and the garden-facing bay window will be reconfigured for greater laptop use. A room that had been used by staff will be turned into a study room that can be used for tutoring, or small study groups.
However, the most significant change visible to the library's more than 42,000 annual visitors will likely be the reference desk, which will also be made ADA-compliant.
"The feel of a library's reference desk has changed dramatically," Mather explained. "Historically, reference librarians fielded hundreds of one- to two-minute questions. Now, in this age of Google searches and online access, they can spend anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes answering a patron's question. The huge desk in the middle of the library is no longer conducive to those changes."
While the city's proposed expenditure will not be finalized until the City Council votes on a new budget in September, City Manager Jim O'Reilly is hopeful money will be allocated in the next fiscal year.
"If we can fully fund the proposed $101,000 in 2014, we will,'' he said. "Of course, we have priorities and if we can't do it all this year, we'll add the balance to next year's budget."
Mather will make whatever changes he can with the money he receives.
"A city library is very special link to a community," Mather said. "You really get to know the people who come in here.
"From online search assistance to eSalons for older adults to a safe place for children and young adults to gather, learn and have fun, the Gulfport library is committed to meeting our patrons' needs," Mather said. "The proposed renovations will ensure we deliver on that commitment.
"Libraries aren't just about books anymore."
Times Correspondent Diane Craig welcomes news and story ideas about Gulfport. She can be reached at email@example.com.