Manatee County's Central Library, an improved community asset with major renovations

Libraries are one of the cornerstones of our civic and cultural fabric. Manatee County is blessed with a strong, progressive library system that embraces all technologies as well as all interests, including staging events that engage youth typically focused on smart phones and computer tablets.

The county's downtown Bradenton Central Library reopened last week after months of improvements. The $350,000 upgrades include study rooms, WiFi everywhere and much more.

As the county library services director, Ava Ehde, told Herald reporter Claire Aronson upon the May 11 reopening:

"We are so excited to be able to offer the community so many resources, programs and work spaces. We really want to be a place where you can learn, grow and be inspired."

The improvements will only increase all of that. We encourage a visit. (And please enter the used book store, stocked with inexpensive -- practically free -- bestsellers and other great tomes.)

Let us celebrate other libraries with a bit of history.

Thomas Jefferson ranks as perhaps the most famous of this nation's Founding Fathers. As the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, he pursued knowledge with an enviable zeal and scope.

His interests spanned science, architecture, religion, invention and philosophy. And linguistics. He spoke French, Greek, Italian and Latin. He could read Spanish, and he studied other languages.

After his presidency, he founded the University of Virginia.

This paragon of knowledge and education wrote this in a letter to a friend in 1809:

"I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the country under regulations as would secure their safe return in due time."

Jefferson appreciated the value of the printed word and the spread of knowledge.

So did Andrew Carnegie, the fabled Scottish American industrialist who earned a fortune leading the country's explosive expansion in the steel industry.

By one estimate, he spent 90 percent of his wealth on philanthropy, building libraries across the nation. Both Bradenton and Palmetto are home to these architectural gems.

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg sometime around 1440 brought the mass production to words on paper. Before that, typographic block-printing in East Asia and laborious hand-copying of books elsewhere brought stories and knowledge to people. Even earlier, the simple spoken word told people stories.

Today, of course, words are no longer found exclusively on paper. But even in our high-tech society, libraries remain an essential element to every community.

Paper books sit alongside movies, music and audio books as the prime attractions. People without Internet access at home can be found at the numerous computer stations in libraries.

Today, libraries may seem like an anachronism, but forward-thinking leadership can put an old public institution into the modern world.

And Manatee County is lucky to have library leaders who embrace all audiences and societal evolution -- especially youth.

The Central Library offers a new teenage area and amenities for younger children.

A community that does not engage youth endangers its own future. These new offerings -- as well as the library's well-established popular programming for youth -- are a key part to creating community.

Please check out the improved Central Library. And take your children so they have a greater appreciation of not just reading, but knowledge. And a concrete place where they can advance their education.