Seminole Heights opens its new library to the public

Less than a year and a half since its previous structure was razed, Seminole Heights residents now have a spanking new library, larger in all aspects than the nearly 50-year-old facility that it has replaced.

This morning Hillsborough County officials held the official grand opening of the Seminole Heights Public Library this morning, constructed at a cost of $3.9 million and located on Central Avenue just south of Osborne in the district.

"There are a lot of young people out there in their homes that don’t have access to computers," County Commissioner Les Miller said while addressing dozens of people who crammed into the entryway of the new facility. "And the only place they can use these things are libraries. So that's how important they are to us."

Miller was referring to what is known as the digital divide, in which the technological advances made everywhere in society still elude some people, particularly children from low-income families. This new library includes 30 public computers that will have Internet access — double the amount of the previous building. It also includes four of what are called Mediascape tables to encourage innovative group work.

The tables allow as many as four people working together on a project to plug in their own device (it can be anything from a laptop to a smartphone to a tablet) while also being plugged into a central outlet, where they can display what's on their screen on to a larger monitor by tapping a "puck," according to Andre Sanders of the library's technical department.

At 22,000 square feet and two stories tall, the new library is three times as large as the previous building.

"It was a very small scale and always felt overcrowded," said South Seminole Heights resident Lorena Hardwick, who usually makes a couple of trips a month to the library to check out books. She calls the new facility "absolutely amazing," and said she's excited to bring her nearly two-year daughter for future visits.

Joe Stines has run the Hillsborough County public library system for 22 years, and says that the Seminole Heights community was more actively involved in lobbying and then overseeing the creation of the new library than any project that he's ever worked on.

"Sometimes in the past we would try to move the library, but that was very expensive," he said on Monday. "And the community here said 'no, we want to wait for this.'"

Pat Benjamin heads up Friends of the Seminole Heights Library, an organization that was originated when local residents realized that they needed a voice to speak up for the community in getting the attention of the Board of County Commissioners. The BOCC ultimately signed off on the plan, which included purchasing a half-acre from the Hillsborough County school board.

There will be yet another "opening" of the library on Saturday, March 29 from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.

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