Despite budget reductions of about $2 million over the last three years, the Hernando County Public Library System is continuing to find ways to grow — and evolve — library officials say.
"We've reinvented and rebranded ourselves," said Paul Alford, the system's branch services coordinator.
A bright new logo has been introduced, as well as a redesign of the library system's website. More changes are on the horizon, with the addition of new classes and a planned reconfiguration of library space.
"This is not just a new logo, but a new attitude," said John Wilson, owner of JSW Creative, a local graphic design company that serves national and international clients. The company was given the task of rethinking the look and feel of the county's libraries.
"Libraries are the original search engine, the point of discovery," Wilson said.
The overall design of the brightly colored logo is an exclamation point, "a universally known image," Wilson said. But, if you look closer, the edges of the image form an open book. Inside the open book is a question mark, a squiggly line and then another exclamation point — representing the genesis of learning. The dot of the punctuation mark denotes the circular path of discovery.
The days of a quiet, reflective library are in the past. The library of today is a community "hub" where people go to use the Internet, visit with their friends and maybe see an art exhibit, Alford said.
"It's also a place to fill the digital divide," he said.
He said that patrons often come into the library to use the Internet, but have lots of technical questions.
To better accommodate those needs, the library system has created a new Learning Services Division and hired a new librarian, in hopes of creating a more structured training program.
The division will feature computer classes that focus on patrons' "real-world needs," Alford said, adding that lessons will focus on the Internet, email, social media and the completion of online forms.
Although the library system will never entirely get away from hard-copy "tree" books, the use of e-readers, such as Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Nobles' Nook, is on the rise.
While the system has offered e-books for about a year, it recently upped its cache to 15,000 titles. People can check out e-books online from their home computers, and because the e-books expire after two weeks, there are never any late fees.
"We're trying to better meet the needs of the community," Alford said.
This includes looking for creative ways to tighten the system's budgetary belt. The library system's current budget is about $4.4 million. The number of employees is down from about 65 five years ago to about 50 today, and hours of operation also have been reduced.
The system has moved from a proprietary cataloging software to a free open-source service, saving the library more than $20,000.
New technology has freed up staffers to be more available to patrons.
There's talk of a reverse-mentor program, where technology-savvy teenagers would instruct seniors on computer use. And the library is branching out into the community, hoping to partner with businesses and organizations.
"We're trying very hard to keep the library in the public's eye. We have so much to offer," said Betty Geentiens, president of the Friends of the Library.
The volunteer organization raises money for the library through the sale of books at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Spring Hill, and pays for all of the library system's programming. Currently, the group is selling T-shirts and book bags featuring the new library system logo to help raise money for future programming.
"We are one of the few county services that is free to everyone," Geentiens said. "The entire community benefits from the library."