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Opening up new worlds

A librarian finds satisfaction in her work, whether working with kids or teaching adults to read. The next chapter in her career? Westchase's new librarian.

Published October 22, 2004

WESTCHASE - Jodi Cohen still remembers the first time she worked in a library.

She was a fourth-grader in Ann Arbor, Mich., assigned to check out books at her elementary school. It was not a life-altering experience.

That came more than a dozen years later, after an aborted career in social work that just "was not for me." While attending the University of Denver, Cohen took a class in library principles, just to fill out her schedule.

"It opened the world to me, how little pieces of information can open up people's eyes in real big ways," she recalled. "That was the real trigger. This combined some of the ideals I had about going into social work with more practical requirements to make the world a better place."

In the more than 30 years since, Cohen has worked as a reference librarian, a children's librarian, a literacy coordinator and a branch manager. This winter, she'll take on a new challenge as the first librarian to head the Upper Tampa Bay Library in Westchase.

She requested the transfer from her current assignment as branch manager of the Fendig Library in South Tampa. In part, Cohen wanted to be closer to her Lutz home and to her mother, who lives just outside Westchase.

Also, she wanted to work in a library that deals with children a lot, and "that's what Westchase is about," Cohen said.

Marcee Challener, interim director of county library services, said the new library could not do better than Cohen.

"Jodi is a very hard-working person," she said. "She's the kind of person who just throws herself heart and soul into her work and projects."

Cohen will leave voicemail messages after midnight, or whenever she has been thinking about work, Challener said. Cohen, who chairs the library system's Hispanic Heritage committee, generates excellent programs, she added, which will be a major asset for the Upper Tampa Bay area.

She called Cohen creative and compassionate, and said Cohen works well with people.

"Certainly, we never get complaints about Jodi," Challener said. "She's just too good a librarian ... We have the utmost confidence in her."

So, too, does Maureen Gauzza, who heads the Friends of the Library.

"We're really looking forward to working with her," Gauzza said. "She is very enthusiastic about working with us ... We love having our own librarian."

Cohen, 59, was born in Brooklyn and lived in several places before moving to Tampa in 1986 to be closer to family. She always had been part of a literary culture, around people who loved to read.

She saw another role that libraries play in 1989, when she began teaching literacy. It was her first exposure to adults who could not read.

"Before that, I think I was really blind to that," she said.

With the literacy lessons, Cohen said, she saw simple but profound changes in her students' lives. They could read street signs, fill out basic forms and vote, among other things that many adults take for granted.

She also learned a lot about commitment.

"I am so impressed by people's persistence, their drive to change their lives," she said. "I find that so inspiring."

One of her recent students, Liliana Sapienza, praised Cohen for her attentiveness and willingness to help.

"I learned a lot from her," said Sapienza, who moved to Tampa from Colombia about 18 months ago speaking little English. "She's real nice, and she had patience for teaching."

Cohen said patrons at the Upper Tampa Bay Library should expect similar dedicated service.

"That means the staff on the floor will do their very best to provide material," she said. The staff "will answer questions and help people. (Patrons) also should expect quality programs for people of all ages."

The library will focus on kids, Cohen added, offering among other things the first teen room in the county library system. It will cater to adults, too, offering computer classes, a large fiction collection and even a Spanish language collection.

She acknowledged that the role of the library and librarian have changed quite a bit as the Internet gets more widely used. The system offers music CDs and movies on DVD, for instance, and provides a fairly significant computer lab for public use.

But Cohen expected the new branch to see lots of traffic, and she looked forward to being part of Hillsborough County's newest library.

"As a librarian, when they come into the library, I want them to get what they need," Cohen said. "When that library opens, if they don't get what they need, come see me, because we'll do our very best to make it happen."

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or


Birthday: Nov. 1, 1944

Favorite book: Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose

Most recent read: The Narrows, by Michael Connelly

When not at work: Cohen enjoys swimming, collecting costumed dolls and spending time with her grandchildren.

First computer: Apple IIe, in 1984

What most people don't know: Cohen likes to sing folk music in the shower.

Organizations: Past president, National Council of Jewish Women, Tampa chapter

[Last modified October 21, 2004, 13:21:19]

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