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Thursday October 30th 2014

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Pensacola and Escambia County have never really been pro-library


Most communities take pride in their public libraries. There are seen in many cities as facilities that transform communities and the great equalizer by making books available to all people. This community has always lacked a commitment to those ideals.

It was 1957 when Lucy Tryon founded Pensacola’s first public library building at 200 W. Gregory St. Eventually a small branch was opened in her name at Pensacola Junior College. That was it.

For years, the West Florida Regional Library System ranked at or near the bottom among the state’s library systems in amount per citizen spent on library materials and facilities; total square feet of library space; percent of residents with library cards; and volumes on the shelves per capita; and other categories.

A 1974 study concluded that the main branch in downtown Pensacola was woeful. Again in 1990, a study said the local library’s annual operating budget should be $20 per capita (double its current amount). The next year, the county commission debated whether to pull all funding from the system. Santa Rosa County would eventually withdraw from the two-county system

In 2001, a study recommended about $43 million in capital improvements and the budget should be about $10 million annually to bring the system up to par by 2020—the budget for 2012-13 is $5.38 million.

In March 2005, the Pensacola City Council approved a three-year strategic plan that would develop two new branch libraries. One would be a $3.9 million new Tryon Branch in northeast Pensacola, and the other would be a branch on the city’s west side. In addition, the city recommended increasing services, such as hiring a children’s librarian for each branch, establishing a mobile computer lab and expanding bookmobile services. The new Tryon Branch was built and the downtown branch is being expanded. Instead of a true west side branch, the city has a small storefront branch on Cervantes. The mobile computer lab and bookmobile services never happened.

Meanwhile the county built the Southwest Branch Library near Perdido Key and has a branch in Century.

In 2007, the county tried to swap the city ECAT for the library system. The commissioners threatened to stop all funding for the library–of which it was paying 70 percent. City council wanted none of it. County kept funding the libraries, but the city eventually cut funding for ECAT.