Tampa's first library opened a century ago, in April 1917. That was three years after Hillsborough County's first library opened in the then-city of West Tampa.
Local libraries have evolved dramatically since those early days. And that's worth celebrating on National Library Week, April 9-15.
Today's Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library (THPL) has 26 locations and two mobile libraries. It lends books, magazines, and streaming music and movies to anyone with a library card. The library's website, HCPLC.org, is a full-service library with 24/7 access to library accounts, eBooks, digital magazines, movies, music, and online classes for technology, business, language learning, and homework help.
All 26 sites have space for meetings, family activities, and quiet reading. There are computer stations and wireless Internet. Visitors can take a class or participate in events ranging from children's story times to tours of historic sites to instruction in the latest technologies.
Best of all, everything's free.
"Now, more than ever, libraries are transforming people's lives," says Andrew Breidenbaugh, Library Services director. "The library is that one place in the community that is open to all without barriers.
"Your local librarian can be a partner in every stage of your lifelong learning: helping get ready for school, continued reading at grade level, preparing for college, or learning new skills to land a better job!"
Tampa's and West Tampa's first libraries were funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who donated more than $40 million to build 1,679 libraries throughout the United States. Ten of them were in Florida - including the two in Hillsborough County - built from the early 1900s to about 1917.
The Tampa Free Public Library, 102 E. Seventh Ave., now is used only for Library Services offices. The West Tampa Free Public Library, 1718 N. Howard Ave., still operates as a branch library.
Hillsborough County's flagship library is John F. Germany Public Library, 900 N. Ashley Drive in Tampa. Since opening in 1968, it has been the library system's main reference hub and resource center. But materials, classes, and service are available throughout the County.
Here are just a few offerings:
With its variety of programs and facilities, THPL strives to provide useful information in a broad range of formats, a welcoming environment, and skilled assistance.