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The library's fresher than you think

By HOLLY ATKINS
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2003


Step inside a library these days and you may be surprised at what you find. Forget the stereotype of a stern-faced, spectacle-wearing old lady hissing "shhh." Say goodbye to Saturday morning classes on "Our Friend, the Dewey Decimal System."

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Today's libraries are all about Shakin' the Stacks: Open Mike Night. Expresso Yourself.

Grab your library card and get to know some of the super services offered through all county libraries. Take care of those overdue fines and buckle up.

And don't forget to wave at the friendly librarians along the way.

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"The Anywhere -- Anytime Library" (Alleycat) -- You're looking for a book, but can't find it at your local library. Your parent takes you to one or two other branches. No luck. Time to give up? Absolutely not. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, a library card and an Internet connection put the books of 12 west central Florida counties at your fingertips. Log onto "Alleycat, the Anywhere -- Anytime Library" through your library's home page. Search for your title, and before you can say, "I tried to do my report but couldn't get all the sources," the book has arrived at your neighborhood library. Videos, cassettes and DVDs also are available.

Teen Advisory Boards -- Also known as youth advisory boards or youth advisory councils, these groups offer teens the chance to have a say in what goes on for young adults at their library, such as which books are purchased and providing space for teens to gather. Tampa Bay area librarians are passionate about the role these boards play. Gene Coppola, director of the Palm Harbor Library, says, "If the teens don't want it, we don't have it."

Bridging the Digital Divide -- One of the best things about libraries has always been that they're free. Entertainment. Information. Yours at no cost. But in today's world of the information superhighway, many people without computers feel left behind. They feel separated from the amazing amount of knowledge available with the click of a mouse.

But help has arrived. The click, click, clicking from keyboards is now a sound just as familiar as softly turning pages at libraries.

Patrice Koerper, public relations and partnerships coordinator for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System, says that the computer work stations at public libraries offer all the features of a home computer. Can't turn in a handwritten report to your language arts teacher? Need a professional-looking resume for that after-school job? Head to the library.

Can't get to the library to use the computer? Hillsborough County has e-libraries in five county park and recreation centers. These work stations are perfect for kids and senior citizens who might have trouble finding transportation to their branch library. The bookmobile also heads to each e-library once a week.

Questions, questions, questions -- Librarians have always been thought of as walking encyclopedias, the folks with all the answers. Today you can have access to all the information they do with library databases via the Internet. "(The public) is getting the same expertise they would have gotten if they had gone to the library. The reference section found behind the large desk is now online," Koerper says. "This is the same thing librarians have been doing for years: buying reference materials and making them available to the public."

Warning to students: The excuse about not being able to do a report because you couldn't get to the library to do research won't fly anymore. Better stick with "My dog ate it."

Speaking of library services available online, go to your public library's home page and apply for a library card.

What time does the poetry slam start? Each county library system publishes a three-month calendar that lists programs offered at the branch libraries. You can also go to your library's home page and follow the links for kids and teens. Branch libraries and county systems include Web pages geared for the younger readers.

Start here and find your way to your local library

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System

Pinellas County Public Library Cooperative

Pasco County Public Library Cooperative

Hernando County Public Library

Citrus County Public Library

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