Passion For Palmetto
May 17, 2017
A Passion For Community Service
May 17, 2017


SUBDECK: Award Winning Manatee County Library System Is Much More Than A Warehouse For Books….
WORDS: Lela Rast Hartsaw
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
In 2016, nearly 850,000 customers made use of the resources at the public libraries in Manatee County over 3.9 million times. That is a record high. Why do people love their Manatee County Libraries?

The folks at the library want you to see your library as more of a community center than a warehouse for books. To start, a book is not the only thing one can take home from the library. Here’s a quick quiz:

Which of the following is available to check out from a Manatee County Public Library?

A. Books, CDs and DVDs
B. Pre-loaded iPlay Tablets for Kids and Adults
C. Cake Pans
D. Telescopes and Binoculars
E. All the Above

The answer is E. With a library card, one can borrow any of the above items (and more) from a local branch library. And there are also classes, workshops, contests, and celebrity visits, from literacy advocates like the Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria and authors like Stephen King.

Our Award-Winning Libraries

Our Manatee Library System was awarded FOUR major Florida Library Association Awards in 2016. Kevin Beach, Operations Manager, won a Lifetime Achievement Award. Rocky Bluff’s Friends of the Library President, Doris Pope, was selected to receive the Friends, Foundations, and Boards Outstanding Member Award. The Youth Services Award went to the Teen Recycled Fashion Show.

And we should all be extremely proud of the fourth and final award - our library system was named 2016 Florida Library of the Year.

Here’s why. Staying relevant is never an easy task. Ava Ehde (pronounced Edy, like the ice cream brand) who is Library Services Manager for the Manatee County Library System has taken the challenge seriously and approached it with an open mind.

Through true collaboration with her staff, the county, volunteers, and multiple associated boards, the library system has made strides to bring much-needed programs to the public and is set to help prepare us for the future.

It is for this reason that the Florida Library Association recently announced Ava Ehde was chosen as the 2017 Librarian of the Year!

At The Library This Summer and Beyond

Looking for fun, free, air-conditioned things to do with the little ones this summer? The theme this year is “Build a Better World” and the summer programs are many and varied and always FREE.

Examples include: building Pokémon catapults at the Island location, sewing lessons at the Palmetto branch, Tampa Taiko Drummers at Rocky Bluff, making volcanoes at South Manatee, Art Afternoon at Braden River, and so much more. (Visit:

Got older kids? With a focus on S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) the library system is developing a place for kids and teens to learn new skills through hands-on activities in a safe environment.

The spot in the Downtown Central Library is called Area 52 Creative Lab, and features multiple computers (iMacs and Surface Pros) for users interested in gaming, music & video production, coding, XY plotting, and more. Want to learn to build robots? Want to try industrial sewing but don’t own a machine?

This unique space is what’s known as a ‘maker space’ and is a current international trend where people can come in and use equipment they might otherwise never have access to because owning this equipment can be very cost prohibitive.

Case in point, The Friends of the Library is in the process of purchasing a 3D printer for Area 52 Creative Lab, something most people can only dream of owning.

In the Juvenile book department, there is a new Art Maker Space - a little area just for little hands where visitors can paint, draw, or create sculptures with multiple craft items. The materials will vary from week to week and kids can enjoy this hands-on area every time they visit the library.

This section also contains a giant chalkboard wall and a large reading area where the seats hide more materials (like Duplo blocks) for allowing busy bodies to get their wiggles out before (or after) finding books to read.

Offering spaces like these certainly keeps the library relevant and desirable.

Take Home Learning

There are new STEM-themed Early Learning Kits to check out and take home from the library. Inside each one are books, toys, games, dress-up items... all to help engage youngsters and make learning fun. This summer, check out a telescope for stargazing or some binoculars to go to one of Manatee County’s amazing preserves to do some bird watching!

Kids don’t have a tablet of their own? The library has a collection of tablets that are pre-loaded with entire books along with tools and entertaining games to keep little minds busy on a car trip or anytime parents need a diversion. These tablets are safe because they are built for kids and there’s no Internet access, so the pre-approved material is all your child sees.

The Library is A Community Project

Asking questions and starting conversations is how Ava Ehde determines what the community’s needs are and what the library staff and its volunteer base can and want to do. It’s through such collaboration that events like The Recycled Fashion Show, ManaCON, and Robot Bowl were born.

Through staff initiative and teamwork, the Manatee County Library was the first to produce its own literary journal. 805 Lit is an award-winning, groundbreaking publication of short stories, poems, and art all curated by and published by staff at our library.

Make sure you plan a visit to your local library branch soon. If you don’t have a library card for your child, make that a special occasion. You’ll open wide the opportunities for growing and learning with a library system that remains free for public use and continues to develop to meet the challenges of our modern world!

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