A recent letter to the editor raised some worthwhile issues about our libraries. As a two-term former president of the Friends of the Pasco County Libraries and a volunteer and fundraiser since 2001, I would like to respond.
The writer enumerates advertised programs, such as free computer classes, flamenco, etc. The good news is that most library programs are sponsored by the Friends of the Library, not by your tax dollar. Many of the programs are done by staff members on their own time, because they have a heart for service. I've watched some of them; they are an outstanding way to get to get more people to come to the libraries, especially young people, where they are exposed to books and reading.
He expresses frustration with location and accessibility, citing the drug store/drive-through window paradigm as a superior example. Not a bad idea. Although drive-by request pickup was discussed when the Regency Park and Land O'Lakes libraries were remodeled, it just didn't work out given the building design. At the Hudson Library, you can drive up close to the entry to drop people off and then park. Maybe that library would be a better choice.
Our libraries do offer some very attractive conveniences. A few months ago, I needed a fairly obscure book for an article I was writing. I asked for it online (very good Web site, by the way). They fetched it from Largo and had it at my local branch two days later at no charge.
The Pasco County Library System operates under a long-range plan established by a citizens committee of 18 members. It spotlights what the community wants libraries to be and to do. They see the library cooperative as "a vital public resource serving the community as a gateway to an expanding world of knowledge, enriching lives within the community, adapting to the emerging needs of residents and the changing technologies they use."
Consider the population the library serves. The median age in Pasco County in the 2000 Census was about 45 years with 26 percent being younger than 18, 53 percent age 18 to 64, and 21 percent 65 or older. That is a very diverse group. Our libraries rise to the challenge.
"Noisy Story Time" is a Godsend for young mothers with infants and toddlers, and the kids love it. I've watched. Live Homework Help speaks for itself. GED classes are a free resource for people who did not finish their high school education. At this end of the county at least, free computer classes are a favorite with retirees.
The writer mentions book sales, a subject near to my heart. We take donations as well as items culled from the library collection. We offer them for whatever a patron cares to offer, at a suggested scale of 50 cents for a paperback, a $1 for hardbound. A book for a buck. I can't tell you how many times I've seen some kid's eyes light up on finding something they want and can afford with baby-sitting or lawn-mowing money. (That kid was me about 50 years ago.)
Books really are just the beginning. And having worked with various staff people including the director, I feel fortunate to have such forward-thinking, hard-working people serving our community. I hate to think of what will happen if people don't speak out for this great service organization and let funding dwindle. I hope the gentleman who submitted that articulate letter joins us and puts his talents to work with us.
Gregory Smith lives in San Antonio.