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Largo Public Library plans bookmobile as outreach to underserved neighborhoods

LARGO — Volunteers at the Greater Largo Library Foundation are planning on purchasing a mobile library to reach underserved communities.

Although fundraising for the library on wheels is in the beginning phase, potential stops on its route will be the two Suncoast YMCA branches in Largo, which include the Greater Ridgecrest and High Point branches, as well as several assisted living facilities and other community gathering places.

The Ridgecrest area, a historically African-American community in an unincorporated part of Pinellas County, established more than 70 years ago, has never seen its own brick and mortar library.

The purchase of a bookmobile comes as good news to Vernon Bryant, the executive director of the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA.

"We've always had support from the Largo library, with book donations and visits from librarians, and we have talked many times on how to bridge the divide between this community and the library, even making a branch here," said Bryant, who is a former board member of the library foundation. "But really, since I've been director at the Ridgecrest Y, the economy has kept funding from being readily available. So, this is great.''

The bookmobile will cost $400,000, plus an additional $35,000 every year to cover fuel and upkeep of the book collection, said Scott Thompson, CEO of the foundation.

"But the foundation is planning on paying for this. No money will come out of Largo's budget,'' said Thompson, who plans on launching the public portion of the fundraising effort in January.

"Look at it this way: Clearwater has five library branches. Well, this will be our Largo library branch. We want to be sure to provide support to everyone who needs our services.''

A few weeks ago, Thompson attended the American Library Association's annual conference in San Francisco where he picked up valuable ideas on traveling libraries.

"I learned a lot," he said. "I learned that every bookmobile can be customized. We want ours to have the services that we already provide at the library — the books, compact discs, DVDs as well as computers for public use.

"There will also be a canopy, and I hope to put tables and chairs in it so that we can take them out and have story time and educational sessions under the canopy.''

Casey McPhee, the longtime director of the Largo Public Library, also stressed that the bookmobile will be much more than physical books.

"I think people will be interested in it for books and book delivery, but as you find in the library itself, it will be used for other purposes, too. It will have computer access (and) access for folks who do not have access for various online activities, as well,'' she said. "This has been part of our vision for a long time. There are underserved populations in Largo, people who really need our support.''

Although computer access is always a welcome commodity, for Bryant, his main focus is on the books. For the second year in a row, the Ridgecrest YMCA coordinated the Million Page Challenge, a community literacy program that has young people and adults joining together to read 1 million pages.

"I just want people to be readers. I know that reading can give you access to the world. Reading changes lives,'' he said. "Yes, I think (the bookmobile) can be a central part of the community, but we have a lot of work to do to have people take advantage of it. There are some who have grown up not valuing books at all, and in that regard, we are trying to change a culture.''

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.