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Tom Germond
For the love of libraries – then, now
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A visit to the library is the ultimate treasure hunt. If you’ve spent time in a great library, such as Largo’s, you know what I mean.

Even if you exit the library empty-handed, you know you eventually will return and come across a book that will be so spellbinding that it leaves you with something – maybe for the rest of your life. And all it costs you is time.

Since I was a child, I’ve wandered the aisles of libraries, large and small, whether doing research for a school term paper or just hoping to find a book to read at my leisure.

Libraries have also helped keep me out of harm’s way, particularly when I was living in a dorm at the University of Florida. I found studying in my room to be difficult at times, because of noise in the hallways and the occasional intruders.

So when it was time for me to study for a difficult final exam, I grabbed my books and notes and headed for the other side of the campus, to the west library, fifth floor, as far away as I could be from any would-be distractions on my dorm floor.

Hidden among rows and rows of books, the desk where I sat served me well. I studied for hours, the only noise being the occasional faint sound of the Hare Krishnas pounding their drums on the Plaza of the Americas. Goes with the territory at a university.

Years later, living in Kissimmee, I was a frequent visitor to the city’s library, where I developed a love for screenwriter and author Larry McMurtry, famous for his novel “Lonesome Dove” and many other fine works of western fiction.

The library was small so I often headed to the Orlando Public Library, which had four floors of unlimited books to my liking.

I’d go there in the evening hours, after work, and plop down in a cozy lounge chair to read.

Once, I fell asleep for several minutes. That was a major violation of the rules. The hand of a librarian gently squeezing my shoulders awakened me.

“No sleeping in the library,” the employee said.

Forgot that the library doesn’t have a snoring section.

These days, I go to the Largo Public Library twice a month or more, usually on Saturdays. It’s a bustling place. Patrons sifting through DVDs, mingling at the café, pursuing the new books, eyeing computer screens, reading, seeking help from librarians, leading their kids into the children’s section or just staring out the windows.

A friend of mine from Redington Beach loves the ambiance of the library; she used to drive there every weekend to find a quiet space to write novels.

Opening the library on Sunday is a future budget milestone. That’s good, because libraries are also fine visitor information centers. While in the library bookstore, I overheard a conversation between one of the volunteers and a visitor to the library inquiring about this area. The volunteer was giving her advice on things to do that weekend, such as taking in a craft festival in Dunedin.

No shortage of treasures at the bookstore, too, such as David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Truman,” that cost me only $5. The hardback, 1,120-page biography is a compelling chronicle of the life of America’s 33rd president and his relationships with his subordinates and other world leaders. I learned that the challenges facing Truman were immense, perhaps underplayed in history.

Similarly, about a year ago, while moseying through the aisles of the library, I plucked a biography on Dwight Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose from the shelf. The book convinced me that few of our country’s leaders, if any, surpassed Ike in character and courage in his time.

Time again to go treasure hunting.

The $21 million library opened in 2005. Some residents were critical of the proposed costs of the library during the planning stages for it. Fortunately, most city commissioners remained committed to building the new library. Today, the services and programs offered by the library and the traffic it generates is a clear testament to commissioners’ foresight.

Now … if they can only find a way to keep it open on Sundays.

Tom Germond is executive editor of Tampa Bay Newspapers. Email tgermond@TBNweekly.com.
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