When was the last time you visited a Hillsborough County library? For that matter, when was the last time you used anything but Google to learn something new?
Today's libraries are evolving into centers where people come to create information, not just research it. Libraries still loan books, but they're also delving deeply into technology and reaching out to their customer base to determine the best way to serve.
One innovation is the availability of dozens of classes. Not only do library branches hold workshops like Intro to Computers and trainings in software like Microsoft Office and Windows 8, but also on subjects like the use of social media such as Pinterest. Want to learn how to research genealogy or join a conversation on master gardening? Yep, they have that too. Some classes are even offered in Spanish.
Andrew Breidenbaugh, Renelda Cells, both chief librarians, and Megan Danek, senior librarian, spoke with CL. Perhaps a good title for them would be head cheerleaders. When we met they were pumped up about current trends at the library, and rightly so.
Gone are the days of being shushed by a librarian to keep quiet. Modern branches are more dynamic centers of activity. Librarians today not only know the content and whereabouts of books and other information in the building, they also have a vast knowledge of technology and are prepared to help answer your questions about tablets, phones, and desktop computers. They can guide you through the use of public computer terminals at 26 branches throughout the county. All branches are staffed with library technical assistants who are prepared to deal with the most formidable customer, like those who just received a Kindle as a gift and don’t even know how to turn it on.
According to Chief Librarian Sells, local, state and federal agencies also rely on library staff to help the public access services. When closures of social service offices inhibit access to Internet services related to unemployment, immigration, and Access Florida (food stamps), the government relies on the library to fill the gap. For example, Sells says the only way to make an appointment with the immigration office is via the Internet, and many in the community do not have a computer. She says the library has been inundated with requests for help from job seekers trying to submit applications because most companies require online applications and many unemployed residents do not have access to high-speed Internet. The state library system has a special division referred to as E-government, whose sole purpose is to examine on-line government issues to keep staff trained and prepared to help the public. According to Sells, surprisingly, they were not overcome with a rush of requests to help navigate the new Affordable Care Act even though they were trained to do so.
Andrew Breidenbaugh says that all libraries have historically functioned as content providers. He believes that, moving forward, the mission of the Hillsborough County libraries is not only to provide content for the community but also to be a place where people can create their own. Breidenbaugh envisions community meeting rooms and Maker Spaces where experts and community partners come together to create and help others learn. The library's vision is already becoming a reality. Maker Spaces, with the help of community partner Learning Is for Everyone , are coming soon to the John F Germany Library in downtown Tampa, which will have a Community Innovation Center with 3-D printers and equipment to work on small electronic projects like robotics building and testing. There's even talk of a small machine shop. Branches like the South Shore Library will have recording studios where the public can hone their skills in both audio and video recording. According to Breidenbaugh, Maker Spaces are not only for the public to go and tinker, they are also a place where students can apply things they learn in school and do their own testing.
Funding for the library comes primarily from a dedicated library taxing district through Hillsborough County property taxes. The State of Florida also provides a small percentage of the library's funding, and an even smaller percentage comes from fees and fines. However, most of the programming (services outside of loaning books), including yoga classes, equipment, and stipends for speakers who present at the library, come from organizations like Friends of the Library and other community partners.
Here are some of the things today's library offers:
E-books, audio books, movies, music, and magazines, all available for free. Soon patrons will be able to stream full albums and feature films. The library is following what they call the Netflix model, indicating that with a library card customers can get all kinds of content from one provider and from the comfort of their living room. Even the library card is free. Once you have an account established (and the library technical assistants are glad to help), you really don't have to go to the library again. But do!
Each branch has several computers online for public use. Patrons are limited to 2 1/2 hours per day. But if you don't have a computer or Internet access, that is a sweet deal!
Technical help of all kinds is available. If you need help in setting up your device to use library services, simply go to your closest branch. They will also help with media management like learning how to attach pictures to e-mail, listing something on Craigslist, and even how to use the copiers at the library. Don't let technology intimidate you anymore.
Meeting rooms for nonprofit organizations are planned for most branches. Some have them already. Users submit an application and once approved can use the rooms when available.
Classes of all sorts including yoga, tai chi, and numerous technology classes from the simple operation of a computer mouse to QuickBooks, Windows 7 and 8, and Microsoft office programs.
Group meetings and discussions on topics like quilting, job support, master gardening, and book discussions.
By the way, you can still borrow things from the library. They have a full stock of books, CDs, magazines, daily newspapers, DVDs, and video games.
The library offers a nice quiet, safe place to go. Take a break! Go read the New York Times or your favorite magazine. If you have kids, make sure they get to Story Time, which is an interactive class of learning and fun. The library also offers technology courses for kids.
The Tampa Library system is 100 years old and is planning a big birthday party on New Year's Day at the West Tampa library. The celebration will include contests, a street carnival, an Andrew Carnegie impersonator (he funded many of the country's libraries in the early 1900s) , and the unveiling of a database on the history of the library. Like almost everything else at the library, it’s free to the public.