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Library gets more space, services

As much as Lisa Apple loved the old Gulfport Library, she says the building was a dysfunctional relic.

On most days, the place was so crowded that turning around in some areas of the building proved problematic. Staff meetings had to be scheduled at the city's senior community center. The aisles were too narrow to accommodate patrons in wheelchairs.

"Things had to change," said Apple, director of adult services for the library.

Indeed, change has arrived _ and in a big way. By gutting the old building, the library doubled its size to 12,800 square feet. Wider aisles, electronic doors and lower reading tables have been installed to help the building comply with the federal government's 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Staff meetings and other community events are being planned for a new 80-seat meeting room. For the first in the library's history, patrons now have access to several multimedia computers.

The project, which forced the library into a room at the Gulfport Senior Center for three months, was completed a week ago.

The price tag for all this change was $880,000, a cost shared by the city of Gulfport, the state of Florida, the Public Library Cooperative and the Friends of the Gulfport Library.

Like her colleague Apple, Jan Neal also is beaming. To her, the additional space is a gift from a community that has had a long love affair with its library.

"The people in Gulfport really support us with their hearts and their dollars," she said during a tour of the new accommodations.

Neal points to a multimedia computer as an example of that generosity. The computer, she says, was purchased through a $135,000 donation from the Friends of the Gulfport Library. To raise money, the group sold everything from cookbooks to bookmarks. In the end, the contribution paid for new tables, chair and shelves.

Judging from the reactions of patrons like Avis Rabe, who drives from Redington Beach to use the Gulfport Library, the new digs are worth every penny.

"It's exquisite," she said. "The lighting is better, parking is closer to the front door, everything is better."

City Manager Robert E. Lee also is pleased.

"It's not only beautiful and functional, it's also the epitome of what a government project should be," he said. "We had the community involved in every step of the planning. This really is their library."