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A new addition to the collection

At St. Petersburg's public library, a new boss and a new opportunity begin today. For Mary Brown, the former assistant director of Sarasota County libraries who is now St. Petersburg's director of libraries, the job is a tough but enviable one. She is being asked to restore vitality to a system that has fallen into disrepair over the years, but she will find no shortage of interested

and enthusiastic supporters.

For the city, the appointment signals a chance to look ahead. Already, St. Petersburg has a fine base from which to start _ a main library and fivebranches, a collection of some 425,000 books, an eager staff and an avid group of patrons. What it needs now is to build for the future. Good libraries do more than carry the latest best-sellers. They open new worlds, with variety in periodicals, updated reference tools, multimedia, technical books. They use updated technology to automate and ease the process of finding books, and they operate on days and evenings that are convenient for their users.

St. Petersburg's library problems are well known. The library's money has been siphoned for other city services, leaving a reduction in staff, a book budget that is one-sixth what Clearwater spends per capita, a total operating budget that is one-third of what Clearwater spends per capita. The main library is open only 65 hours a week, and branches only 42{ hours.

What St. Petersburg now has, though, is a sense of leadership and a sense of purpose. Last month, Mayor David Fischer and City Council members, including Vice Mayor Connie Kone, told administrators that they want a renewed commitment to libraries and that they are willing to give libraries the resources they need to improve. Advocacy groups such as the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters and the Friends of the Library have pushed for improvements and stand ready to help. The county's library cooperative is maturing and providing strong financial assistance.

Brown should be excited by the high expectations that greet her arrival. She also should not hesitate to draw upon the talents of the citizen groups that support her mission.

The executive order that established Florida's Conference on Library and Information Services last year described the value of libraries this way: "The access to information and ideas is essential for Floridians' development as individuals, as contributors to culturally rich, diverse communities and as informed enlightened electorates." For St. Petersburg libraries, the opportunity for enrichment begins.

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