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Library is now just a virtual visit away

Nine new computers inside Beulah Baptist church let kids and adults access library materials with the click of a mouse.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 17, 2002

Rather than send West Riverfront children downtown to the library, the library has come to them.

Beulah Baptist Institutional Church is trying a new kind of community outreach: an electronic library. The church's former Sunday school room is now a high-tech computer lab featuring nine new Dell computers with flat screen monitors.

"Parents who couldn't afford bus fare to send their children to the library can now send (them) right across the street," said the Rev. W. James Favorite.

Most children in the neighborhood don't have computers at home.

"This is a very poor area," Favorite said.

The library, tucked inside the church's A. Leon Lowry Senior Family Service Center, 1006 W Cypress St., is free and open to the public.

It's designed to bridge the "digital divide," said Jackie Zebos, spokeswoman for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

The satellite library is a product of a statewide faith-based initiative partnering churches and community organizations with public libraries.

The 136-year-old church supplies the space, and the Hillsborough County Library Cooperative, a group of city and county member libraries, maintains the computers.

The E-library features virtual books. Its computers provide access to the ingredients of a public library: card catalogs, databases, almanacs, reference books, dictionaries and the Internet.

Elementary-school children play math and reading games. Children from the church's day care center use the computers, as do children who attend the church's after-school program.

"They really look forward to using the computers. They'd rather do that than go to Sunday school," joked Betty Guzman Baker, E-library volunteer.

Students can get online help with homework or practice for the SAT and FCAT exams.

Adults can search for jobs online or work on their resumes. They can learn computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Access.

The E-library offers five computer classes a week, taught by library employees.

Users apply for a library card online and set up free e-mail accounts. They can search for a book in any library in the state, reserve it and have it sent to the nearest branch.

"This is a great way to advance skills," Favorite said.

A bright red phone stands at the end of a row of computers. It's a hotline to a library help desk.

The church and library were awarded a Community and Library Technology Access Partnership Grant totaling more than $56,000, enough to buy the computers and a server, plus software and Internet access.

So far, there are E-libraries at six Hillsborough County recreation centers and one at Hood Temple AME Zion Church. Most were built using partnership grants.

The library is in keeping with church goals, Favorite said.

Organized in 1865 on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation, the church served as an educational institution teaching newly freed black men and women to read and write.

"We've kept that tradition of education alive for a lot of years," Favorite said, adding that is why the church is known as the Beulah Baptist "Institutional" Church.

The grant came through in October of last year and classes began in January.

The E-library was dedicated May 10.

"This is such blessing to the church and the community," said Evelyn Wright, church administrator.

-- The E-library is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To sign up for a free computer class call 275-7293.

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