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Library trots books out to bring youths in

Grace Weil tosses One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish onto the stack and darts back to the shelves.

William Sheehan, her grandfather, watches with a smile as the 4-year-old roams among the books and videos. She had arrived the previous night from San Francisco, he said, and this is their first stop.

"She wanted to come to the library," he said. "The first place I had to take her was the library."

A year ago, it would not have been such a fun adventure. Then, the Seminole library had little to interest children, just a few books that seemed to be there more as an afterthought than by plan.

These days, though, the new Seminole library is a children's oasis with books, puzzles, videos and cassettes.

The shelves still aren't as full as parents and library officials would like, but with its separate children's wing and a children's librarian, the new library is a big contrast to a year ago.

This year, for the first time ever, the library has an entire schedule of activities planned for the grade-school and younger set. The kick-off is Monday.

There are regular story times, puppet shows and book talks. There's even going to be a sleepover in the library's community room.

"We've come a long way in Seminole," Sheehan said.

And in the center of this storm of activity is a quiet, soft-spoken man the children call Mr. Mike.

Mike Bryan, the children's librarian, grew up in Seminole. He went to Orange Grove Elementary, Seminole Junior High and Seminole High School. After college, he spent several years in libraries in Manatee County, Dallas and Hillsborough County, first in the reference section and then with the children's section.

When he heard that Seminole was looking for someone to run its children's programs, it sounded like just the job for him, Bryan said. "The first public library I visited as a kid was the first Seminole library."

Now, children visit Bryan daily.

"The kids just love him," said Cathy Robinson, who last week was in the library with Caitlin, 7, and Erin, 21 months. "He's so comfortable with books that he just brings books to life."

Bryan's desk sits in the center of the colorful children's section, facing the fabric jungle scene created by one of the volunteers. A sign on his desk urges patrons to "Please Interrupt."

As he talked with a visitor on a recent day, several people took him at his word and interrupted to ask for help.

For the little girl who is just learning the alphabet, he suggested a book with an accompanying cassette. For the father whose son is interested in Ireland, he offered to find material. He took the man's name and said he would call when he puts together the information. For the boy having difficulty with his reading, he suggested some easy fiction designed to interest children and some textbooks for the boy's mother.

Laura Vaughan said her sons love the new library.

"They get an interest in books and think books are fun," she said. "I let them pick out their own books and they think they're big. . . . It's fun to see what kind of books they go after."

She couldn't believe how little the library had for children when she moved to the Seminole area two years ago. "They had nothing. I said we need something better than this," she said.

She took the boys _ Doug, 7, and David, 5 _ to the Largo library until the new Seminole library opened.

As pleased as he is with the library's progress, Mr. Mike has visions of more.

The offerings on the shelves still are too sparse, especially in the children's picture books.

"If you came over here the first week or two, those shelves were almost bare," Bryan said. He has placed two large orders totalling more than $6,000, and still he must limit the number of books any person can check out at once.

"Otherwise, there would be nothing left to check out," Bryan said. "We could increase our quantity two or three times."

He has plans, too, for even more activities: more puppet shows, more book groups, more family activities. He expects story hour, though, to remain his favorite part of the job.

"In a lot of ways, that program is the cream of this job," he said. "It's pretty neat to sit in a rocking chair with a lot of kids around and read stories to them and get paid for it."