Tuscaloosa Public Library wants students to know it’s here for them, too

Emma Margaret Thompson, Contributing Writer

In 1911, a group of Tuscaloosa women founded the “Up-to-Date Club” and demanded the city allocate funds for a county library. Their goal was simple: to make information available to the public free of charge.

Over the next 110 years, their original idea has been reinforced. What started out as a few borrowed rooms in the old Tuscaloosa County Courthouse evolved into three branches full of information for citizens.

Today, the Tuscaloosa Public Library consists of the main branch, two satellite branches and two bookmobiles. These outlets help them serve the community and the three universities in the area: The University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College.

While the Tuscaloosa Public Library always reaches out to the community to garner more patrons, they struggle to connect with university students in the area. 

Rick Freeman, the executive director of the Tuscaloosa Public Library system, said they consistently partner with the universities and other local companies to highlight the library’s offerings. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the library will partner with Art Garage, a local art studio, for a painting class in their Rotary room. 

Freeman said there is a mutual benefit with the library and university’s partnership. 

The library also takes on student volunteers and hires students for part-time jobs. Their website has more information about these opportunities.

Vince Bellofatto, the public relations director for the library, said the Tuscaloosa Public Library tries to be on The University of Alabama’s campus as often as possible to inform the students of its services.

“Anytime that there’s been a community event sponsored by the University, we always attend those events,” Bellofatto said. 

Their community outreach is an addition to everything the library does to invest in the community and build patronage.

September was Library Card Sign-Up Month. Throughout the month, individuals could sign up for library cards and receive Tuscaloosa Public Library merchandise.

“That’s one of our big campaign periods,” Bellofatto said. “It’s a big draw that typically gets people that don’t have a library card into the library to get one, just as an incentive.”

Both Freeman and Bellofatto disputed the notion that the public library only caters to older adults and young children. They have departments targeted toward each age group.

Madi Skinner, a sophomore majoring in public health and Spanish, is an avid library patron. The money she saved by using the library’s free, unlimited access to entertainment was the main factor in her decision to become a patron. 

My favorite part of the library is the ‘quick pick’ section at the front. It’s a system where you can only keep each book for seven days, but they’re usually the most popular books or ones that I’ve been looking forward to reading the most,” Skinner said. 

However, Skinner said she wished the library were more accessible to students. 

I don’t always have time to make it over to the library to return and pick out a new book, so sometimes I just swing by to return,” Skinner said. “I think making it more convenient to return would make it less daunting to check out materials.” 

Skinner said a book return box on campus would benefit students who are crunched for time. 

Madeline Fleming, a sophomore majoring in kinesiology, got a library card as soon as she came to the University in 2020.

“I had a library card at my library at home, so I knew I wanted the same access to a library in Tuscaloosa,” Fleming said. “The library is important for the Tuscaloosa community because it provides the public with information. This information, like in history and science books, can help individuals differentiate the truth. There are so many different genres of books, so everybody in the community can find something they enjoy.”

The library is a great location to study when campus is too overwhelming. During midterms and finals, the library can provide a quiet and calming environment.

Leah Brasington, a graduate student studying elementary education, said the library is a great environment for quiet study time and an incredible resource for the community.

The public library provides free, public Wi-Fi along with a computer lab, printers and fax machines for anyone in the community who needs those resources. These tools are utilized by many Tuscaloosa residents who don’t have internet access to apply for jobs, take online education courses and more.

Library cardholders also have unlimited access to audiobooks and a plethora of other online resources through the Libby app, which is run through a program called Overdrive. 

“I love that I can use the Libby app and listen to audiobooks or send library books to my Kindle; it is a game-changer,” Brasington said. “I think that the Libby app should be more advertised.”

In addition to the Overdrive program, The Tuscaloosa Public Library provides Freegal Music, an online tool for patrons to download free music each week. 

The Friends of the Library bookstore is a used bookstore connected to the main library branch. 

Books ranging from Bibles and textbooks to autobiographies and the newest releases are available for purchase. Prices range from $2 to $5. Forewarning for those interested: They only take cash and checks. 

And one of the best-kept secrets of the bookstore is that they sell an array of vinyl records for under $5.

Whether students are looking for a new book, a new place to study, or want to find some new vinyls, a library card from the Tuscaloosa Public Library provides access to all this and more.

Questions? Email the Culture desk at culture@cw.ua.edu.