Our public libraries really matter, as the pandemic proved

Libraries are a critical part of our community. This has never been clearer than during the last two years. Even as many of us were isolating at home, residents continued to turn to our community’s library resources in record numbers for education, entertainment and important information.

In fact, in 2021, our library system saw an unprecedented number of digital check-outs, with more than 2.5 million digital books, audiobooks and magazines borrowed. At the same time, the community borrowed over 3 million physical books, movies and audiobooks.

Andrew Breidenbaugh [ Provided ]

National Library Week, Sunday through April 9, is an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s public libraries. Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries have a rich history in the community dating back to 1912 when the very first library was built in West Tampa. Andrew Carnegie donated the funds for that library and a second Carnegie library downtown. There are now 27 branches, two mobile libraries, the HCPLC.org website and collaboration with the Temple Terrace and Plant City libraries to serve our community. Looking upon those 110 years of history, the library has grown and evolved with our community and continues to offer free and open access to a diverse collection of resources.

We have created new ways to ensure easy access to our materials from home, and these methods continue to accommodate our residents’ busy lives. For example, the library’s Borrow by Mail program lets you select books from our online catalog at HCPLC.org and have them mailed directly to your home. When finished, you can just drop them in the drop box at your local library. Or, you can answer a few questions through our READ or REJECT program, and one of our librarians will select the perfect books for you that will be mailed directly to your home.

A large part of our connection with the community is the library’s support for the education of children, families and individuals in pursuit of personal and career growth. One of the things we learned from our community within the past couple of years is that residents enjoy the freedom of virtual programming. Since the start of live and recorded virtual programming, 68,000 customers have viewed over 700 classes produced by our staff. Our virtual library is open 24/7 at HCPLC.org. Here you can not only borrow digital books but also take an online class or get homework help.

Part of the library’s commitment to the community is helping to strengthen the local economy by providing resources to help people hone their skills and take advantage of opportunities for growth. We offer computer-software training, assist individuals with applying for jobs, and help customers pursue educational opportunities. We also offer free events and classes, free public Wi-Fi, community spaces and passport services.

Libraries build community, and our library staff builds unique connections with the people we serve. This gives us a firsthand look at your everyday needs. You share stories with us that help us plan for the future and grow. I encourage you to visit us and rediscover the many resources the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Libraries have to offer you.

Andrew Breidenbaugh is the library services director of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.

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