FLORENCE — The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library is launching a series of celebrations to mark its 10th year at its Wood Avenue home.
The two-story library and its grounds occupy a city block facing Wilson Park downtown. Considered ambitious at the time, it is now one of the city’s most imposing — and most heavily used — symbols of commitment to education.
“This is probably the finest library in north Alabama,” said Simpson Russell, a member of the library’s board of directors. “Libraries have always been centers of learning, and we are finding and discovering new ways to be centers of learning.”
Books and related materials remain the core of the library’s use, but more and more, computers and digital tools, as well as community programs, are taking on a central role.
“I’ve heard over and over again that libraries have changed more in the past 10 years than in the past 100 years,” library Director Nancy Sanford said. “We use them for many different things now.”
The Florence library is a good example of those changes. Public access computers are heavily used by patrons, a variety of educational programs are staged by many community groups, a sandwich and coffee shop is at the rear entrance, a website offers a growing amount of digitized historical and genealogical information, and electronic readers can be checked out just like a book, or patrons can use their own readers to check out books online.
Sanford said she and the library staff are constantly exploring ideas that will attract people to the library, and that sometimes is not through traditional means. She said the library is as much a community center as it is a traditional library, and that is by design.
City Council President Dick Jordan was the driving force behind funding construction of the library, and he remains its staunchest advocate.
“We’ve done a lot to expand recreation in Florence, but this is something where everyone can exercise their minds,” he said. “I really think it is fulfilling its education mission.”
Funding for such a large operation is always a challenge, and the library has struggled at times to keep its book and video collection current. But in the past two years, the City Council has increased allocations. Sanford said the additional money has gotten the library’s budget to a mostly comfortable level.
The library’s budget this year is $1.1 million, with Lauderdale County contributing $172,500 of that amount.
The library’s design has met everyone’s expectations, though Russell and Sanford said some additional storage space would be nice.
“The building has been thoroughly functional for us,” Russell said.
The way people read long-form fiction is changing with the advent and popularity of electronic readers, Russell said, so the function of public libraries will change, too.
“I expect a decade from now there will be far less emphasis on books than today,” he said.
“Libraries are used increasingly for history and genealogy, and a lot of programming.”
By the numbers
Facts related to the 10-year history of the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library:
Materials checked out in the past 10 years: 2,652,560
Registered patrons: 45,209
Florence patrons: 20,704 (47 percent)
Lauderdale County patrons: 16,837 (37 percent)
Colbert County patrons: 5,534 (12 percent)
Patrons from other areas: 2,100 (4 percent)