LAKE ALFRED – Denise Johnson was at Lake Alfred’s new public library on the opening day when a police officer walked up to her to note that he had a collection of old photos from the Lake Alfred Police Department’s earlier days.
Any chance, Officer Gerry Dempsey asked, that she would be interested in having it?
Johnson’s eyes lit up when he said that.
“One of our local police officers stopped me and said, ‘You know, Denise, I have a box of old photos, and I would love to give it to the library for your archives,’ “ she said. “And I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ “
The new library at 245 N. Seminole Ave. in downtown Lake Alfred held its dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, July 9, welcoming in the public to a building that’s been in the planning and construction stages for nearly a year. It was a very successful day, said Linda Hitchcock, the library’s director.
“The opening went very well,” she said. “We had quite a few people who showed up and were very impressed with the facility, and happy we are open.”
But for Johnson, the president of the Friends of the Lake Alfred Library – which got the new library built — the opening day was just the beginning of what are some very ambitious future plans. And one of them, she said, is to prove that libraries are still very relevant.
“Our theme – and this is really important to me – was called ‘Celebrating our Journey,’ and the journey continues,” she said. “We are not done.”
The new building replaces the old Lake Alfred Public Library, which opened in 1972, and only had about 1,000 square feet of space to offer. The employees – and city residents – outgrew it in no time.
The Friends of the Lake Alfred Library felt it wasn’t adequate for the needs of local residents, so they decided to raise money privately to fund the new library. The project became a reality when the library got a $500,000 grant from the late Dr. Edwin Moore, a research scientist. Construction on the new, 6,000 square foot building started on Aug. 8 2011, and was just completed in May. Although the project was privately financed, the library is being turned over to the City of Lake Alfred to operate.
The new building offers a lot more to residents than what the old one did, Hitchcock said.
“We have a separate teen room that we did not have before,” she said. “We have a children’s reading room that is new, and a crafts room. We have a meeting room and a study room, and our Internet is much faster. We’re quite happy with it.”
On the opening day, “We had our teen room filled with teenagers, reading books,” Johnson said. “It was a day of happiness for us, a wonderful day.”
It was also the start, she said, of what she hopes will be a long journey of expansion and innovation that shows people still need a local library.
These are tough times for libraries, which are government-funded services that get hit with budget cuts when tax revenue is tight.
Likewise, in the high tech age, people now have the ability to download anything they want – a book, a DVD, a compact disc – onto their laptop. Is there a risk that libraries could simply become obsolete?
Not at all, Johnson said.
For one thing, she said, there is always going to be a need for a library’s central mission: to provide reading materials to people who can’t otherwise get them. And that mission, she said, has helped the Lake Alfred Library even in restless economic times.
“There will never be a time when there won’t be books,” she said. “People always want to hold a book in their hands.”
And despite budget cuts, “Libraries actually, in hard times, see an upswing in youth coming in, because people can’t afford to buy a book,” Johnson added. “Or they had to give up their Internet connection at home.”
Still, despite that, the Lake Alfred Library is embracing the high tech age, when Kindle offers eBooks to be downloaded on Amazon.com.
“Our library does have many eBooks available that people can download,” she said.
At the same time, Johnson said the Lake Alfred Library will take on another critical mission: to record and help preserve Lake Alfred’s rich history.
“We do have archives of events that have been held throughout the city,” she said.
They’re also forming an alliance with the Lake Alfred Historical Society, which conveniently has its building right across the street – and in undergoing its own renovations at the moment.
“It’s great to have those two important buildings right across from one another,” Johnson said.
She has plans to archive even more of the city’s history, by reaching out to seniors for their memories of Lake Alfred of yesterday.
“I would like to get elder citizens in here and get them to talk about the past, and record them on DVD, and get them to tell the stories of our early years before we lose them,” she said.
The library is also opening up a used book store that will continue to raise funds for the building’s maintenance and operation.
“We will have the Friends of the Library used book store, which is not quite open yet,” Johnson said. Right now, they’re asking the public to donate any used books, DVDs or compact discs that could be sold there.
It’s a lot of hard work, she said, but it shows that libraries still play a very useful function in 2012.
And not surprisingly, when they had their dedication ceremony, “We got a record crowd,” Johnson said. “There is a synergy, I think, when I think of the city of Lake Alfred.”
To learn more, call the library at 863-291-5378.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.