CLEARWATER – When the city of Seminole outgrew its public library and needed a new one at the same time that St. Petersburg College was building a satellite campus on vacant land it owned in Seminole, officials of the two entities put their heads together and decided to build a joint-use library for Seminole residents and SPC students. The concept worked so well that Clearwater officials and SPC officials began discussing the possibility of combining the city’s outdated East Branch Library with the college’s aging Clearwater Campus Library.
On October 4, 2012, the Clearwater City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with SPC to explore the feasibility of building a joint-use library on the college’s Clearwater campus. At the council’s work session on June 16, Barbara Pickell, the head of Clearwater’s library system, updated the council members on the current status of the project.
She said that discussions are continuing, an architect has been selected to design “a library for the future,” and SPC would like to have an operating agreement by August. But she added that any such agreement must respect the unique character of Clearwater, especially its Hispanic community, and not be a clone of the operating agreements for SPC’s Seminole Campus Library or its joint-use Gibbs Campus Library in St. Petersburg.
Pickell told the council that youth services are the “number one priority” of community libraries because they promote literacy and school-readiness. Therefore, she said, children should have their own designated areas and computers, and not have to share them with college students or other adults.
Unlike college libraries, whose books are either used in the library or returned to the library after being checked out, Pinellas County’s library books are sent wherever they are needed in the county. Also, public libraries use the Dewey Decimal System to catalog their books, while SPC and most other colleges use the Library of Congress System.
Like most joint-use libraries, the SPC Clearwater one would likely be co-staffed with both SPC and city librarians.
The SPC Clearwater Library is open 69.5 hours per week but closes during Spring Break and other times when there are no classes. Its five “full-time equivalent” employees are covered by the state retirement system.
The East Branch Library has 13 “full-time equivalents” that are covered by the city’s retirement system and keep the library open 46 hours per week. Pickell estimates that if the library hours are increased to 69.5 per week, she would have to hire another five FTEs at a cost of approximately $250,000 per year. But a compromise schedule of being open 58 hours per week would only force her to hire three new FTEs, at an annual cost of approximately $150,000.
“The college pays its staff more than we pay our staff,” Pickell said.
The new library would be located on the SPC campus, near the site of the current library but closer to Drew Street. Clearwater, which has $6.25 million of Penny For Pinellas III sales tax revenue to contribute to the new library, could make its architectural needs known, but SPC would have the final say on the architecture.
The council members seemed skeptical and said that they want to hear more details before giving the project a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But Pickell and City Manager Bill Horne were optimistic that a mutually satisfactory operating agreement can be reached.
“None of these (differences) are barriers that we can’t get beyond,” Pickell said. “We do believe this will work.”