The New Tampa Regional Library (NTRL) on Cross Creek Blvd. opened a little more than 20 years ago, in May 1997. The building has started to show its age, so it’s getting a few updates.
Nearing completion shortly is one big change immediately noticeable to anyone who brings kids to the library. The formerly wide-open building now has an enclosed children’s area. With a mostly glass wall, the space still feels open, but 3,382 square feet of the library is now behind a door and designated specifically for use by children and their families.
“Everyone assumes that the wall was built for noise, and that’s part of it,” says NTRL principal librarian Wendy Prasad, “but it’s also for a safe learning environment, and gives a space for kids to be kids a little more.”
Prasad emphasizes that the library still isn’t a playground for running and horseplay, but, she says, “Modern public libraries are community buildings, and there’s more of a feeling of a shared community space, so we encourage different uses of the library.”
“New Tampa has such an amazing community that really supports the library and attends its programs,” Cantrell says. “There’s a large crowd that comes in and attends children’s programming, so now we will have more of a dynamic, interactive area inside of the children’s room.”
The wall is already built, but Cantrell says the finishing touches — including family-friendly furniture and educational materials that enhance early learning — are still on their way.
“We will be bringing in Grandma Claire’s Early Learning Hive,” says Prasad, who explains the library’s system-wide Makerspace is called The Hive. For adults and teens, the focus is on technology.
“For early literacy, we’ll have a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) concept and early learning concepts, but it won’t be technology-based,” says Prasad. “We’ll have early learning blocks and LEGOs, word matching, letters, sensory toys and manipulatives.”
The room is being named “Grandma Claire’s” after a donation from Claire Unnasch, a New Tampa resident who passed away in 2016 and provided a gift of $25,000 towards enhancing the children’s area.
The total budget for the project, including the construction of the wall and also replacing the partition in the community room, is $205,368. The actual final cost will be determined at the project’s completion.
“It’s part of the cultural community shift and where libraries fit into that,” Prasad says.
Modern libraries — including the NTRL — are often adapting to the needs and desires of the people who use them, adding programs, inviting in groups and enhancing the “Maker” options available to the community.
For example, the New Tampa library has added a daily “Teen Zone” for students leaving Benito Middle School, which is located right next door to the library. As many students arrive at NTRL at the same time after school, Prasad and her staff have found ways to make them feel welcome and help them take advantage of the library’s many offerings.
“We open our community room for about an hour and a half every day with video games and other activities,” says Prasad. “We’re here for our community, and that includes everybody.”
Additional construction is planned for 2018. The building is scheduled to have a new roof put on starting in January, during which time it’s expected that the library will remain open during regular business hours, but it may be noisier than usual.
NTRL’s bathrooms also will be upgraded, although the schedule is still being worked out to determine the least possible impact on library patrons.