When Bruton Memorial Library commemorates its 50th anniversary later this year, it'll honor what started as a small room in a termite-infested building and became a 20,000-square-foot facility.
The library has established itself as a popular place that offers an array of programs and services beyond books.
"If you're in here between 5 and 7 o' clock, you're probably having a hard time finding a place to sit. Study room is usually booked up. Conference rooms are taken," said Anne Haywood, director of Bruton Memorial and its 12-member staff.
"I look up during the day and say to myself, where did all of these people come from?"
A recent city survey shows that 98 percent of the library's patrons consider it an important part of the community, said Haywood, the library director for almost 19 years.
Last week, it wasn't hard to find people who said they love Bruton Memorial
Elizabeth Zarycki is homeschooling her children, David, 4, Natalie, 6, and Eric, 8, "so we're here a lot" for the books and children's programs.
Greg Curtis and Jan Jones like to bringing their 7-year-old granddaughter, Ali Devan. They started visiting the library with her and Curtis said the programs give children "an excellent jump start."
The library is celebrating its golden anniversary with a year full of special programs, including many for the summer. A celebration to commemorate the landmark date will be held later in the year at the library, named in honor of major contributors, Judge James D. Bruton Jr. and his wife Quintilla Geer.
The facility today, with a dedicated children's section, magazine section and free programs for people of all ages, would have astounded Plant City Woman's Club members when they ran the city's first library from 1927 to 1959.
The volunteer group collected books that people donated and found a home for them on a few shelves in its club room. For a fee, patrons could use the small space to read or check out literature.
"It wasn't necessarily a collection designed for children, or a collection of fun stuff to read for adults. It was all just hodgepodge," Haywood said. "Seventy-five percent of all public libraries were founded by women's clubs - outgrowth from projects like what happened here."
Today, the library, supported by an $882,000 annual budget, is open to the public, offering free Internet, book checkouts, study space and conference rooms.
Before the library came under municipal control in 1960, the city contributed only $25 a month, starting in 1940, according to accounts in "Plant City: Its Origin and History," written by Quintilla Geer Bruton and D.E. Bailey Jr. Then-club president Noel Moody had requested the funds for a part-time clerk.
But everything changed for Plant City and its library after one poll in 1959 - one that sparked a continual improvement in the quality of services available to the people of Plant City.
The club wanted a municipal library, particularly Quintilla Geer Bruton. The building, which was located on Wheeler Street, was ravaged by termites, and the city wouldn't extend any further financial help to the liking of the Woman's Club.
So she spearheaded a movement for a free, public library. The city commission responded, calling an election to levy a tax to support a library.
Nearly 75 percent of the citizens of Plant City voted to let the city tax them for a public library - 551 in favor, 190 against.
Following the polls during a Feb. 17, 1959 public hearing, Plant City commissioners - Paul Tindle, A.R. Ward, William Vernon and Otis Andrews - voted in favor to levy a tax to support what they titled the "library fund," according to city records.
"I thought that was very interesting when the commission announced that the people voted to have themselves taxed. It kind of surprised me that they would do that," said William Midyette, a local dentist and former library board member who was present during the 1959 hearing. "It's quite progressive."
A year later, a small library with a reading room sat at the corner of McLendon and Wheeler streets. It still resides there today.
Now that 50 years have passed since the city took control, the library board has yet to decide how it will commemorate the anniversary. They will know by fall.
As more and more people continue to use the library, some think it will need to expand again. The city has drawn up tentative plans to double the library's size although there's no timetable.
"People need to know we're a valuable resource that needs continued support. There are places in Florida where libraries are going away," Haywood said.
The longest serving employee is Children's Librarian Carol Lane, who has been there 35 years. She and her library assistant, Debbie Clark, stage children's games and reading times, such as a recent event that drew more than 50 youngsters.
She credits Bruton Memorial's success to the fact that books remain popular, even in the Internet age.
"It's not all about computers. People like to read. It's not gotten old."
BRUTON MEMORIAL LIBRARY
ADDRESS: 302 W. McLendon St.
TELEPHONE NUMBER: (813) 757-9215
ON THE WEB: www.plantcitygov.com
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
EXPANSION PLANS: A 2006 report by Harvard Jolly Architects explored ways to double the size of the library to 40,000 square feet The report suggests the most cost-effective approach is to acquire the three lots to the north of the library, reconfiguring recreational uses at Courier Field to accommodate the joint parking needs of the library and a redesigned park. Another option was to build an entirely new structure. The expansion plans have no timetable.
HOW IT GOT ITS NAME: The library was named in honor of Circuit Judge James D. Bruton Jr. and his wife, Quintilla Geer Bruton, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quintilla, who died in 1989, was instrumental in the drive for the city to take over the library. Her husband, who died six years later, also gave $1 million in land to the University of Florida's law school.