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Pasco-Hillsborough line a big divide for library systems

You'd think the title would have been easy to find in the Pasco County Library System. The book, Doubts About Darwin, was written by Thomas Woodward, a national expert in the intelligent design movement and a professor at Pasco's own Trinity College. I was working on a profile of Dr. Woodward for the St. Petersburg Times and wanted to do my homework.

Pasco's library system did not have a single copy. Not because they were all checked out but because the system simply didn't carry the book.

The Hillsborough County Library System did. I checked it out from the Temple Terrace branch as part of Pasco's and Hillsborough's reciprocal borrowing program. All I had to do was show my Pasco library card. I did that a couple more times when I searched for personal books Pasco did not have.

It appears those days will soon be over.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library Board has recommended that Hillsborough County withdraw from the arrangement because its north Hillsborough libraries are devoting so much staff time to serving Pasco County residents.

Under Hillsborough's proposal, folks like me would have to pay $100 for the privilege of checking out books straight off Hillsborough shelves.

The statistics were staggering: For every two Pasco books checked out by a Hillsborough County resident, Pasco residents checked out more than 200 Hillsborough books. Overall figures show Pasco residents borrowed the most books from other libraries than any other Tampa Bay area county.

Linda Allen was not surprised. The director of Pasco's award-winning library system knows it's good, but woefully inadequate.

The most recent report shows Pasco's collection has about 1.5 books per person; the Florida Library Association standard for basic service is two books per person. Allen points out that many libraries have four books per person.

"It can be seen that the Pasco County Library System lags behind generally accepted standards," the report said. "At the county's current population levels and when future population growth is worked into the equation, the picture worsens."

No one knows that better than Wesley Chapel residents. If we want to visit a Pasco library, we have to drive more than 9 miles to Land O'Lakes or even farther to New River near Zephyrhills. Those libraries, especially the recently expanded Land O'Lakes branch with its inviting children's room, are nice, but at a little more than 5 1/2 miles, the New Tampa library is much closer. Plus it operates on Sundays, something no Pasco library does.

Allen says "we got really close" to building a Wesley Chapel library on the 5 acres the county owns just north of the Meadow Pointe neighborhood. "But that was about the time the bottom dropped out of the economy." Voters also approved Amendment 1, which cut property taxes and further slashed revenue to local governments.

Allen estimates that it now will take several years before Wesley Chapel gets it own library. She's not happy about that.

"If I could, I would love to go out and build it tomorrow," she said.

Wesley Chapel residents should know that the Pasco Library System has come a long way in a short time. It began only 28 years ago, when I was in high school. I grew up in South Carolina, where the state motto should be changed from "While I Breathe, I Hope" to "I Really Hope We're Not At the Bottom of the SAT Heap Again."

Yet I grew up in a town with a nice library.

Allen, who helped start Pasco's library system, said philanthropist Andrew Carnegie paid for 1,689 libraries across the United States in the early part of the 20th century. My hometown library was one of those. Pasco was not among the counties receiving grants.

"It was pretty much wilderness," she said.

County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand remembers how she sometimes had to take her two sons across the county line to Tarpon Springs to do research for book reports in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The only local options were small locations in Holiday and Hudson "that flooded on a good rainy day" and the city of New Port Richey library, which at the time was "barely adequate."

Today, Pasco's Library System manages to do a great job despite its meager resources.

Proof of that came recently when the Florida Library Association named the Pasco County Library System its 2008 Library of the Year. Among the reasons: Pasco County's Original Battle of the Bands XI: Rockus Maximus; an adaptive toy collection for special needs kids, speed dating for reading lovers and an innovative adult reading club. The library's marketing savvy and its willingness to help the poor gain access to social services via the Internet through a federal grant program also make Pasco's system an asset.

I love the library and its programs. I just wish I could love them closer to home and on Sunday afternoons.

Until then, I'll go the New Tampa library, where I can still look but not touch.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Pasco-Hillsborough line a big divide for library systems 05/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2008 4:32pm]
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