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Eager patrons devour library

Kelly Van Tassel had waited a long time for Saturday.

After years of driving in traffic-congested streets to other libraries, the Westchase mother and her two children were finally able to ride to one on bicycles.

The Van Tassel family joined some 400 people who came to the grand opening of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library at 11211 Countryway Blvd.

"It's so exciting," Van Tassel said, watching her 7-year-old daughter, McKenzie, devour books inside the glass-enclosed children's room of the new 15,000-square-foot library. "Before, I could only take them to the library once every two weeks. Now, it'll be more often."

The library's unveiling capped an almost five-year wait by Westchase residents who lobbied hard for a new library to serve the fast-growing northwest Hillsborough area. Stocked with 53,000 books and state-of-the-art technology, the facility is expected to draw patrons from more than 40 communities.

"It's a great day," Hillsborough Commissioner Jim Norman told the crowd inside the library. He and Commissioner Ken Hagan had worked with community leaders to get the money set aside to build the 26th library, at a cost of more than $2-million.

Not long after the dedication, the three librarians at the check-out desk were swarmed with parents and their giddy children, all clutching books, computer games and DVDs.

"It's both overwhelming and extremely gratifying," said branch manager Jodi Cohen, sweat dampening her brow. "It's astonishing _ all these people."

Back inside the children's room, Debbie Tata tried not to lose her footing as she balanced a pile of books that seemed to be growing by the minute.

Her 5-year-old daughter, Rachel, sat next to her newfound friend, McKenzie.

Both were reading from Santa's Kwanzaa, a colorful book about the African harvest celebration.

Watching the girls trade laughs as they read, Rachel's mother, Debbie, recalled how she met her two best friends at a library.

She was new to Westchase, and the Oldsmar Public Library had become a favorite place for mothers to meet while their children read.

Now, she said, the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library would become her family's new sanctuary.

"We can just walk up the street for story time," she said.

Rachel wasn't listening, her eyes still glued to a book.

The library will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirezsptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

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