Residents have been invited to celebrate the centennial celebration of library services in Tampa and Hillsborough County with a New Year’s Day kickoff party at the West Tampa branch, the area’s first public library.
The day’s festivities will set the tone for a year’s worth of commemorative events and programs throughout the library system that — under the theme, “Changing Lives, Transforming Communities” — pay homage to the growth of the 25-facility library system and its effects on the communities it serves.
“We knew we wanted to celebrate the centennial and that we didn’t want it to be one party and that was it,” said Joe Stines, director of library services of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. “We wanted to do some creative programming and involve the public actively in our history.”
That history mirrors the times in which we live, starting with the Jan. 1, 1914, dedication of the West Tampa Free Library, as it was then known, at 1718 North Howard Ave. Entrance to the library today is around the corner, at 2312 West Union St.
According to the celebration invitation, West Tampa is one of just 10 libraries in Florida that were originally funded through grants awarded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant.
At the time, Carnegie, who died in 1919, “was directly involved with the grant process,” Stines said. “He believed the public library would be the key to everyone having an equal opportunity to learn and grow and to prosper. His emphasis was, ‘I’ll give you the money to build a public library, but you’ve got to commit as a community to support it.’ He required elected officials to staff their libraries and buy materials to loan. Without that commitment, a lot of libraries around this country would never have been born.”
To drive home the importance of Carnegie’s influence, the centennial celebration will include a “Flat Andy” mascot and contest for both kids and adults. Carnegie, who said “a library outranks any other one thing a community could do to benefit its people,” stood 5-foot-3. At each library branch throughout the centennial year a 5-foot centennial Carnegie mascot will be on display to drive home the industrialist’s influence on the library movement.
The contest builds upon the Flat Stanley Project, based on the “Flat Stanley” books, in which people share photographs of representative drawings shot at various locations near and far from home.
“We want you to take Flat Andy to a library anywhere in the world and photograph him,” said Margaret Rials, who as a chief librarian has oversight over the Jan Kaminis Platt, Bloomingdale Regional, Charles J. Fendig and Riverview branch libraries. “Children will be given a Flat Andy to color and adults will get one already colored. In November, to commemorate his birthday, we will give prizes to winners in a random drawing.”
There will be special prizes for people who send Flat Andy the farthest and who photograph one in front of a Carnegie-funded library, Rials said. She added that Flat Andy will have his own email account; entries of the week will be posted on Facebook.
Other centennial tributes include a commemorative perpetual calendar — for birthdays and other notable dates — featuring historic Burgert Brothers photographs, library system milestones and compelling historic events, published by Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County. The 108-page calendar cost $15 and is available now at public libraries.
Also in place is the Library History Roadshow, which involves stops at various branches to collect photographs, memorabilia, artifacts and oral histories from people who have stories to share about their experiences with the public library system. Scanned and recorded memories have been added to a growing digital archive history of the library system to be made available to the public in 2014.
“We had a few things in our history about different locations but it’s always better to get more,” Stines said. “One lady had saved a sign that hung in front of the old Hyde Park library, which closed in the late ‘60s. We have a recording of an elderly man who worked during his high school days for the [library system’s] first director, HelenVirginia Stelle.”
Stines, who once wanted to be a geologist and was a certified teacher, said he has been a librarian for almost 40 years, including 29 in Tampa, and that he expects to “phase out” his career after the centennial celebration runs its course.
“Like most librarians, the thing I liked most about my career has been the people,” he said. “I like books but I like the people more. It’s the feeling of being helpful, of helping people grow.”
What stands fast is the library’s stature as “the third place,” Stines said. “You have your home, you have your work and school and you have the library, the place to be productive, to get information.”
To aid in that effort, recent and upcoming upgrades and renovations include flexible-seating “maker spacers,” outfitted with whiteboards and computer screens, where, Stines said, “people can meet and collaborate on projects and walk away with a finished project.” Streaming video is set to grow, on pace to augment electronic books, online courses and software titles as materials to be loaned.
For information about the Library History Roadshow and the 2014 “Changing Lives, Transform-ing Communities” yearlong centennial celebration, including centennial book discussions, visit www.hcplc.org. Also on the library system’s website is information about the Jan. 1 kickoff party at the West Tampa Branch Library, 2312 West Union St. Scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m., event high-lights include a bagpipe processional and centennial birthday cake and coffee. The “1914 street fair” is slated to include a balloon artist, games and crafts; a popcorn cart and lemonade stand; flamenco, opera and jazz performers; and a cigar factory lector and cigar roller.