People in south Lakeland will have to drive a little farther to access a library in a few weeks. After 16 years in the Lake Miriam Square shopping center, the eLibrary will close its doors permanently at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2.
The facility is being moved to the Kelly Recreation Center at 404 Imperial Blvd., two miles north. The new Kelly Branch Library is scheduled to open Monday, Sept. 18.
“We thank Publix Supermarkets for supporting the eLibrary concept at Lake Miriam for the past 16 years but as our lease expired, staff started exploring different locations and concepts,” said Bob Donahay, director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts.
Donahay said he is excited to bring library services to the recreation center — referred to by many as “Kelly Rec.” The 30,000-square-foot complex has a gymnasium, swimming pool, and basketball, pickleball and tennis courts. It offers children’s ballet, karate and judo classes. Adult classes include yoga, boxing, Tai Chi, fencing, Zumba, ballroom dancing, belly dancing and more.
“Many years ago, I was approached by a football player who spent some time in the NFL. This person asked me what we were doing at our recreation centers for kids that don’t play sports,” Donahay said. “Recreation facilities typically focus on athletics but there is a large segment of the population that we can also reach by including library services.”
At the new Kelly Branch Library, users will be able to browse and borrow from collections of popular library materials for children and adults, get a library card, pick up requested items in self-serve book lockers, and return materials borrowed from any Lakeland public library, according to a news release.
The library will also offer public WiFi access, technology assistance, printing, faxing and scanning services. Chromebooks can also be checked out for use within the facility.
“We are really excited to explore this new concept and I owe it to staff for thinking outside the box. I know Clearwater Beach has something similar but as far as I know, we will be one of the first, if not the first public facility in the state of Florida with recreation, swimming, and library services on one campus,” Donahay said.
The recreation center has had a library book vending machine since May, which holds about 75 to 100 books.
Assistant City Librarian Stephanie Brown said the book vending machine has been “an opportunity to reach wider audiences and expand library services there prior to opening a new Kelly Branch Library.”
“Children’s books have been the most popular titles checked out,” Brown said. “People are continuing to discover and use the vending machine, and it has helped to build interest in the library book lockers already onsite and the upcoming Kelly Branch Library.”
According to Brown, the book vending machine will remain at the Kelly Recreation complex until a new location is selected.
The closure of the eLibrary at 4740 S. Florida Ave. is sad news for Juliana Rodriguez, a nursing student at Galen College of Nursing. A mother of a 2-year-old, she enjoyed coming to the eLibrary alone to study and it’s located less than two miles from her house.
“It’s quiet and it’s close to my house. It’s the closest library that I have. There’s nowhere else I can study. The coffee shops are too loud,” Rodriguez said, adding that traveling to the Kelly Recreation Complex would be too far.
Others on the library’s Facebook page expressed similar sentiment, stating their kids will miss stopping inside on their way into Publix. Another user lamented that the new facility would not be open on weekends.
The new Kelly Branch Library will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. It will be closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but users will be able to pick up reserved materials at the self-serve book lockers.
After Sept. 2, eLibrary users can return materials at the book return inside the Kelly Recreation Complex or at the main library or the Larry R. Jackson branch library.
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