Giant balls tumbling in the air. A man in giant white suit inflated by a leaf blower. Balloons soaring overhead – way over the tops of the books that announce the library as A Serious Place. That serious place is in serious danger of collapsing into a house of giggles.
Jiggleman is in the house.
"I never know quite how to describe him, but kids love him," Library Administrator David Mather says as Jiggleman grabbed two volunteers from the audience and, speaking only in gibberish, coaxed them into throwing giant balls at him.
Last year Gulfport hired a new library administrator, and since then the library at the heart of Gulfport's downtown has seen a broad expanse of programming. Jiggleman's antics, part of the end-of summer reading party, attracted young families, but he's also added technology classes, such as iPad workshops, and weekly teen events. Wednesdays are now "Game Zone", a teen night at the library where teens can gather and do homework, play video games, or simply hang out.
"Whatever comes our way, if we catch wind of it, we'll see if it goes," Mather says. Aside from capital projects, City Manager Jim O'Reilly estimates that Mather's budget has increased 10%. Since he started running the library, participation increased drastically.
"For adults, it's almost 100% because we never really had adult programming here. We had groups that met," he says, adding that the Circle of Friends sponsored some adult programming over past years.
The youth programs, too, have seen an increase, with Thursday morning story time (10:30 a.m.) growing from two to 25 participants.
The city manager praises the change.
"Coming from a very frugal environment, David knows how to work well with limited resources," O'Reilly says. "He has an exceptional ability to interact with the community."