As Manatee library use rises, officials consider adding hours, Lakewood Ranch branch

srocco@bradenton.comJune 15, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- While most libraries are quiet, Braden River Library always hums with the chatter of kids, the crackling of computer keys and the whispers between patrons and employees.

Cars filled all but a few parking spots outside of the library just after lunchtime Thursday. Regulars came and went. Parents took their kids by the hand and led them inside to pass the summertime hours.

As more planned communities are approved and as new homes are built each day, Braden River Library, the only library servicing East Manatee, has seen a 30 percent increase in attendance since 2010.

As a result, the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday discussed the possibility of adding a Lakewood Ranch library to accommodate all the new families settling into the area.

"We're seeing how the growth out there is impacting that facility," Cheri Coryea, Manatee County's director of neighborhood services, told the Herald. "From a standpoint of looking at the population statistics and where the growth is, not having

a facility east of the interstate is a disadvantage if the growth continues ... it's probably something we should look at."

In 2010-11, Braden River Library had a total of 163,814 visits. That number has swelled to 169,976 in 2012-13, according to records obtained by the Herald. Circulation has also risen from 314,613 materials checked out in 2010-11 to 329,111 items in 2012-13.

"Our level of businesses has not gone down despite the fact that we're open fewer hours, said Cathy Laird, Braden River Library supervisor.

Patrons of the Braden River branch aren't just going for the books and DVDs. Computer use at the library has gone up 63 percent, records show. The library's 18 computers saw 24,230 sessions in 2010-11 as compared to an estimated 39,500 to date.

The discussion of a new library came after Coryea briefed the commission on the projected cost of restoring eight additional hours to the Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W, Bradenton, during its Monday through Saturday service and adding a four-hour Sunday service.

The library's hours were slashed and Sunday service was discontinued when the recession hit in 2009.

Coryea said a jump from 48 to 60 hours per week would require an $800,000 budget increase and 10 new employees.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the addition of a Lakewood Ranch branch would be a positive move for the area, but she is unsure of when the project would actually pan out.

"It is something you will see one day, but the question is what is that day," Baugh said Friday. "It's going to be a while because we're not totally out of the problems of the economy."

Budd Reth, 87, sat at a table Thursday afternoon combing through a heap of stamps, bills, photos and letters. "I just organize my things," he said. "I like to spread out."

The Creekwood resident comes to the library every day that it's open, Tuesday through Saturday, and said he would visit a Lakewood Ranch library if it were open the other two days.

To build a new library, officials would need to survey the demographics of the area, the census, the proximity of other libraries and the future of development, among other variables.

"The first thing we would have to do is figure out a location and then have a discussion on what the needs are, what we would want in a library, even down to something as simple as having a coffee shop," Baugh said. "There would be a lot of discussion, a lot of work that would have to be done. It would take a few years to get that on track."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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