For many people in the towns of Levy County, first place is home. Second place is the church.
The third place is the library.
“It’s a place where you can go and everybody knows your name,” said Lisa Brasher, director of Levy County Public Libraries. “You can meet up with people who have like-minded ideas.”
Yet while there will be no coordinated celebration in the county during April 10 to April 16, which is National Library Week, the libraries of Bronson, Cedar Key, Chiefland, Williston and Yankeetown will adhere to its theme of “Libraries Transform,” through continuing to be a “third place” for residents and through programs that bring technological resources to them, Brasher said.
To keep up with changing technologies, Levy County Public Libraries have offered several programs that take on non-traditional formats.
Because each library has a limited amount of computers, a mobile career source van with nine computer stations comes once a week to assist residents with job searches, Brasher said.
The library system also recently completed a “teen-tech month” during which new technologies such as 3D printers and Raspberry Pi, tiny computers used to learn programming, were taken to the libraries.
Brasher said there were a variety of participants ranging from teens to adults.
Teens participated in a tech contest where they needed to come up with a problem, find a technological solution and do a patent search.
“They were learning a lot as they went along,” Brasher said. “Some of the things were absolutely unbelievable.”
Twenty-six original entries were submitted, including a sensor for blind spots on 18-wheeler trucks and a device that produces oxygen underwater for scuba divers.
To have that many entries was surprising, Brasher said.
“We are the size of the state of Rhode Island,” she said. “We are economically challenged and transportationally challenged.”
Brasher said the staff is looking into writing a Library Services and Technology Act grant to acquire new technology. She said she wants to start working with schools through a mobile service similar to the career source one, but everyday technologies are still changing lives in the small towns of Levy County.
One man came to the library with no technological knowledge and was able to learn how to use Gmail, Facebook and Skype to connect with his son and grandson overseas, she said.
“I see transformations in everyday people’s lives when they get connected,” Brasher said.
Many residents of Levy County are interested in history and ancestry, she said. They use computers to trace their relatives.
Each library in Levy County has at least six public access computers, which residents often use to apply to jobs and benefits, she said.
Chloe Reynolds, a 21-year-old criminology and political science student at the University of Florida, grew up in Cedar Key.
She said she didn’t use the library much other than to check out a book she couldn’t find at her school’s library.
“It was really small, so we didn’t have as many resources compared to other libraries,” she said. “There were several rows of yearbooks and encyclopedias. It wasn’t really all relevant.”
Reynolds said she prefers Alachua County libraries because of the wider selection of recreational books and research materials.
“Those are things I definitely wouldn’t be able to find at home,” she said.
Brasher said the libraries are keeping up well with changing technology thanks to the Putnam, Alachua and Levy County Public Library Cooperative, or PAL. The PAL cooperative provides an extra source of income and training.
But the libraries are lacking in personnel, Brasher said. The cities themselves own the library buildings, but the county pays employees.
“We need more personnel,” she said. “The cooperative can’t give us personnel. They can give us things.”
Even with people questioning the relevancy of libraries today, most Americans view them as important to the community.
According to PewInternet, 80 percent of Americans say it is very important to the community to have a librarian available and books available for borrowing.
Seventy-three percent say it’s very important for libraries to have research resources available, and 67 percent say it’s very important for libraries to provide career resources.
But Brasher maintains that the libraries are transformative in the way they act as a “third place.”
She said people from the north who vacation long term in Cedar Key and Yankeetown often use the libraries as a place to meet and reconnect with friends.
“This is what a third place is,” she said. “It makes everyone feel like they’re part of the community.”