The Lee County Library is located on 245 Walnut Avenue in Leesburg.
LEESBURG — Take one step through the doors of the Lee County Library at 245 Walnut Ave. and immediately, you feel right at home.
“We’re all a family here,” Lee County Library System Director Claire Leavy said. “From the staff to all our visitors, we care about each other.
“If you have a doctor’s visit, we want to know how it goes. And if we haven’t seen you for a while, we’ll call and check up on you.”
That’s a far cry from the image of libraries most may have in their mind — those recollections of stuffy, silent rooms where stern, watchful monitors shush those who turn pages too loudly.
The Lee County Library is changing that image. A cozy, outdoor courtyard beckons visitors inside, where fairy-tale murals grace the walls.
From babies to retirees, there is something for everyone.
“Advancing technology really makes it possible to provide so many different resources for patrons. I always try to see what the latest trends are and incorporate those into the library as well,” Leavy said.
Four libraries comprise the Lee County Library System: The Lee County Library, Oakland Library at 445 Oakland Parkway, Redbone Library at 104 Thundering Springs Road and the Smithville Library at 116 Main Street in Smithville.
From traditional print books to audio, to downloadable e-books and magazines for nearly any reading device, you’re hard-pressed to find an excuse for not finding what you need.
Traveling businessmen and women know they can stop by on their way through town to take advantage of wireless internet access, truck drivers rent audio books to take on the road, and job seekers can come to the library for assistance in their search.
“The staff here is prepared to help, whether it’s with online applications, updating resumes, or correcting a technical problem,” Leavy said.
But don’t think for a minute that adults are the only ones who can enjoy the library.
Enter Erin Honeycutt — wife, mother and children’s librarian aficionado.
Honeycutt formerly worked as a lawyer in Valdosta before deciding she wanted to make a career change. After schooling and moving her family to a new city, she has enjoyed being a part of the Lee County Library System for two years.
“It wasn’t easy, but anything worth doing usually isn’t,” Honeycutt. said
And for her, it’s all about the kids.
“We’re very big on children here,” Honeycutt said. “We love having them here, and if they want to run around and just be kids, they can.
“The library should be a place where they want to come — somewhere that’s fun for them, but also a place where they can excel and learn.”
Leavy agreed. “We want to get children comfortable with coming to the library at an early age, and hopefully they will become regular users and supporters of the library.”
No one is ever too young to enjoy a good book.
Babies ages infant to 3 years old can visit Oakland Library for “Mother Goose on the Loose” storytime and the Lee County Library offers a similar version for older tots ages 2 to 5.
Honeycutt herself spends time visiting area schools and daycares to read stories to children.
“I just love visiting the kids,” Honeycutt said. “I’ll go anywhere they want me to read a story.”
Craft time and LEGO Club helps give youngsters a chance to express their own creativity.
“The process of creating is important,” Honeycutt said. “I tell them that their projects don’t have to look exactly like mine. They can have a model to aim for, but they also have the chance to think for themselves and explore their creativity.”
LEGO Club works in conjunction with STEM, a new initiative in schools that aims to prepare children for teaching and technology jobs. Working with Legos gives students an opportunity to directly apply engineering concepts they learn in school to their creations, which remain on display at the library throughout the week until it’s time to create a new masterpiece.
But true to library form, reading is highly encouraged, and nowhere is that more evident than with “1000 Books Before Kindergarten,” a new program that aims to encourage parents and caregivers to read to children before kindergarten.
According to Honeycutt, “Eighty-five percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of life before kindergarten. That’s why reading to them is so important, and it also helps them learn to read because it’s easier when they have seen the words before.”
This year’s “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” has a farm theme. A “barn” hangs on one wall of the Lee County children’s wing, and for every 100 books kids read, they get an animal to place in the barn.
“Right now we’re adding pigs, but eventually, we’re gonna have a big ‘ol farm full of animals up there,” Honeycutt said.
Each child keeps a log of the books he or she has read and receives stickers and a certificate when they reach a new milestone.
“It’s a proud moment for them, and they get motivated to keep reading because they’re excited about the progress they’re making,” Honeycutt said.
For the record, children are allowed to read the same book more than once. This is a process that’s encouraged, because the repetition process is another method which helps kids learn and absorb information. According to Honeycutt, no child has yet reached the ultimate goal of 1,000 books but, “We have a couple who are getting really close. I’m keeping a record of their book logs and when they are compete, I plan to compile all of it into a keepsake for them.”
Kids enjoy the program because they see concrete evidence of their efforts. Parents enjoy the program because it helps their children.
“Parents want to see their child succeed and will do what they can to help them achieve that goal,” Honeycutt said. “It’s important to start off on the right foot as soon as possible, because once a child gets behind, they stay behind, and it is very difficult to catch up.”
“When we get the children interested in coming to the library, then their parents will come with them,” Leavy said. “In the end, everybody wins.”
From Legos and barnyards to coupon programs and painting parties for adults, both kids and kids-at-heart can find something to interest them at the library.
“We’re here for the community,” Leavy said. “A great library strives to improve visitors’ quality of life by meeting their needs, whether it’s educational, economical or otherwise. We’re a community, and we want everyone to feel comfortable here.”
For more information on programs and features available in the Lee County Library System, find them on Facebook or visit their website at leecountylibrary.org