Lakeland resident Marian Rogers scans the fiction offerings as another patron works at a table at the new Kelly Branch Library, which opened on Sept. 18. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

Lakeland’s new Kelly Branch Library opened last week and reviews have been mostly positive. 

Several patrons said the location is convenient and the library space is bright, clean and “very nice.” Their main critique is that the new branch, inside the Kelly Recreation Complex at 404 Imperial Blvd., is significantly smaller than the eLibrary it replaced. 

The South Lakeland eLibrary closed permanently on Sept. 2, after 16 years in the Lake Miriam Square shopping plaza. The storefront branch was larger than it looked, extending far back from the entrance to provide 4,525 square feet for desks, bookshelves, computing, a children’s zone and conversation areas.

The Kelly Branch, which opened Sept. 18, has about 1,000 square feet of dedicated library space, according to Lakeland Communications Director Kevin Cook. That makes it less than a quarter the size. 

However, Cook added “there are a number of additional seating and gathering spaces at the recreation center that provide a much greater space.” 

The Kelly Branch Library was created out of a former activity room in the complex. The project — which cost $141,000 and took three and a half months — was completed by Strickland Construction Inc.

Library draws new visitors to ‘Kelly Rec’

Marian Rogers, 81, of Lakeland, said she used to visit the eLibrary at Lake Miriam Square every two or three weeks. She had never been to the Kelly Recreation Complex before Wednesday, when she stopped by to check out the new library. 

Marian Rogers, an avid reader, expects to be a regular patron of the new library. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

“It’s smaller, but very nice. And this is closer for me,” said Rogers, who expects to be a regular patron. “I do a tremendous amount of reading,” the retiree chuckled, clutching a fresh stack of mystery novels.

Hicran Maina, 45, of Lakeland, was also a regular eLibrary user. Before Wednesday, she had only ever visited the recreation center to vote.

Maina, who homeschools her three children — ages 7, 11 and 15 — said the location of the new branch is convenient, less than a five–minute drive from her home off of Edgewood Drive. But the space is “kind of small.” 

She was on her own Wednesday but looking around, she said if her kids had wanted to come and “if there were other people, I worry that we’d bother them.” Although the new branch has different zones including a children’s area in one corner, it is very open.

Both Rogers and Maina said having a library within a recreation complex may expand both programs’ reach, but they weren’t really interested in other activities at the center. 

“I am here just for the library and to vote,” Maina said, adding that she and her family use the YMCA, where they are longtime members, for swimming and fitness.

Lakeland resident Hicran Maina, who homeschools her three children, said the new location is closer to her home. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

Brian Mathers, one of two city staff members assigned to the Kelly Branch full-time, moved fluidly from one patron to the next, helping Rogers to check out her books, another person to log into the WiFi, and Maina to send homeschool worksheets from her smart phone to the library’s large printing and copying machine.

Mathers said the new library saw a steady stream of people stopping by throughout the week.

Although the library is smaller, the 30,000-square-foot complex — referred to by many as “Kelly Rec” — offers many additional amenities for people who visit. It has a gymnasium, swimming pool, and basketball, pickleball and tennis courts. It offers a variety of classes for children and adults.

Unlike the eLibrary, which had some Saturday hours, the Kelly Branch Library is only open on weekdays. However, there is a book return slot and self-serve book lockers where people can pick up requested materials any time the recreation center is open.

Changes ahead for Lake Miriam Square

One big advantage of the new branch is that it’s in space owned by the city, rather than leased.

The former eLibrary and its neighbors — the now-shuttered Publix Aprons Cooking School and Grapevine Wine & Spirits — all closed ahead of a major project by Publix to demolish, expand and rebuild its Lake Miriam store. 

Employees said the work is slated to begin early next year, after the Oakbridge Publix project is complete.  The Greenwise store across the street from Lake Miriam Square will become a regular Publix store during the construction and may remain open even after the new one opens.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. She was a crime reporter, City Hall reporter and chief political writer for newspapers including the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow. Reach her at cindy@lkldnow.com or 561-212-3429.

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