A Century of Service: Checking Out the History of the Clearwater Library
On February 20, 2016, professor, archivist, and historian Jim Schnur gave a multimedia presentation on the history of the Clearwater Library to celebrate our centennial.
History of the Clearwater Public Library System
Clearwater was a small farming community in 1900 when 343 people lived on the bluff overlooking Clear Water Bay. The next ten years marked the introduction of a telephone exchange, electric lights, an ice factory, the paving of Fort Harrison Street, and the addition of 848 citizens. A fire department was established in 1910 after the entire business block burned on the north side of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue.
Pinellas was established when the peninsula, formerly a part of Hillsborough, was re-defined as a separate county. Clearwater was named the county seat by the simple expedient of the overnight building of a courthouse. Residents began to invest time and effort in becoming more than a tourist mecca and agricultural center.
In 1911 the Clearwater Library Association opened a subscription libraryon the second floor of Peoples Bank. The next few years, its use and citizen support were enough to convince the Carnegie Foundation to approve a request for $10,000 to build a permanent public library. For grant approval, the City of Clearwater had to provide a site and promise support and maintenance.
That same year Morton F. Plant Hospital was constructed as the first health facility within twenty miles. The Clearwater News printed an editorial:
"Support the Library...One of the finest assets a town can possibly have is a good library...None will help make for a successful and happy community in the future as a good library. Already started is a collection of books, which could be made to serve as a nucleus for a larger and free public library - one owned by the town...(It is) a matter of civic pride. A public library, free to all the home people, ministering to their special wants and needs, is no longer considered a luxury, it is fast becoming a necessity to all progressive communities, and Clearwater should not be behind her sister towns; it can and should become a leader." January 8, 1914This letter, from Clearwater Library Association Board member E.H. Jones, must have reflected the popular feeling, for in May, 1915, a referendum approved City Ordinance 154: "To provide for the creation and maintenance of a Free Public Library, and to provide for the establishment for a Library Board as a department of the City Government, and to prescribe its duties and powers." The next month, a special tax was passed to purchase the Jeffords/Somers site at Osceola and Sunset, and to provide maintenance.
The Mayor and Town Council approved the name "Clearwater Public Library" and accepted the Carnegie money. Architect F.J. Kennard, of Tampa, designed the building, and construction contract was won by G.A. Miller at $8,781. The balance of the Carnegie grant was used for furnishings, screens, and a Remington typewriter. The Women's Club arranged the dedicatory reception, and the Library Board hosted the festivities on September 14, 1916. Miss Margaret Duncan was appointed Librarian at a salary of $50 per month, with a possible increase during the winter season. Services of the Library were publicized on the Strand Theater's moving picture screen.
The first year 1,277 visitors borrowed 2,792 books. The Library had a reading room with two Clearwater newspapers, the Tampa Tribune, Chicago Tribune, magazines, and reference books including the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. There was a rental shelf (two cents per day with five cents minimum) in addition to the purchased and donated circulating collection of the "very latest literature." Two books could be checked out at once, only one of which could be fiction.
Temporary residents, as well as taxpayers, had free use of the Library, providing a merchant signed their card application or a two dollar deposit was made. Miss Duncan was Pinellas County Director for the American Library Association in the United War Campaign during World War I. She spent her vacations enrolled in classes in Library Science and attended professional meetings. She resigned in 1918 to become Head of Children's Work at Jacksonville Public Library.
Her apprentice, Constance Chase, was the only staff member and depended on volunteer help to continue the Children's Hour. Grace Mease was appointed the new Library Director in 1920. A telephone was installed. 1,246 of 2,427 residents were card members. The Library Board commenced the encouragement and support of the professional development of the library staff. Patrons began a tradition of donations to augment the small book budget.
Notices were placed in all the hotels, and winter visitors expanded the ranks of readers. Library administration in 1925 hired additional personnel: two assistants, a parttime employee for the workroom, and a janitor. The Board received petitions for more card files and a heating system. The impact of the Depression on the Clearwater Public Library was similar to the effect on libraries across the nation: less money and more patrons. The budget was cut necessarily and repeatedly. The building, now over 14 years old, needed repairs. When the City Manager turned down the lowest available bid of $40 to fix a damaged ceiling, the Librarian bought the materials and hired laborers to fix it for $13.65. The City Manager reimbursed her. An emergency arose in 1932: faced with a sudden budget cut of $1000, the Board unanimously approved the dismissal of Mease as the most expedient measure. Annie Owen, formerly an assistant, was promoted to Library Director at her same salary.
Expansion and Change (1940-1979)
Over the next ten years the staff increased from three to five assistants, supplemented by high school student apprentices and volunteers. The women managed to continue Children's Book Week celebrations with talks in the schools, poster contests, and programs. The circulation of 18,047 books topped 100,000 in 1935 in spite of the fact road repairs near the Library lasted six weeks. The Sunset Point Home Demonstration Club requested a deposit library collection. The Board approved the project, referring to it as the first branch library. A Works Progress Administration book-mending project increased the library staff by five workers and a supervisor.
Space was at a premium, seating was inadequate, and catalog cards were stored in cardboard boxes. The Librarian and Board President Taver Bayly made the first appeal to the City Commission for more space. An addition to the Library, which at the time faced Sunset (the drive-through in the parking lot south of the present building), opened in 1939. That year's Annual Report thanked the city for the enlarged library, "We have people coming to our library from other larger towns of the state to consult our reference books." 1,200 school children from local schools and neighboring towns visited during Book Week.
The expanded space and gifts, including Mrs. Flagg's doll collection, led to the opening of a museum in 1942. World War II brought growth and development to the small city of 10,136. Special library cards were issued to the many servicemen and their families stationed in the area. There were fewer winter visitors. Book delivery was slow due to transportation limitations.
Some staff transferred to more closely related war employment. Library Director Annie Owen was struck and killed in an automobile accident in March, 1942. Based on a Civil Service examination and the City Manager's recommendation, the City Commission appointed Sarah Byers to succeed Owen. An assistant since 1934, she was well qualified to continue and expand the goals of the Clearwater Public Library. The City Manager recommended wage increases due to the higher cost of living, and Byers' salary was advanced to $137.59 per month.
The Victory Book Campaign, managed by the Committee for Civilian Defense, found a collection and distribution point in the library basement. The Boy Scouts had an exclusive corner of the Children's Department and they contributed many volunteer hours.
When World War II ended, a "refrigerated" drinking fountain was installed. Air conditioning was years away. When staff and library supporters appraised the building's condition, it was evident extensive repairs and redecoration were necessary. Work returned to normal after much renovation: selecting, processing, cataloging, shelving, mending, circulating books, book reviews, children's programs, and consulting with other area libraries. A population growth in the greater Clearwater area was beginning.
As early as 1917, Library Board minutes had noted a discussion for a "colored library proposition," but the main plant had been the focus of all efforts until black citizens brought the real need for a branch library to Byers' attention. Horace Carson remembers, "In the late 1940s there was a growing feeling in the black population that we should have a library for our children." The City Commission agreed that if they could find a building and a librarian the city would fund it. Christine Morris opened the doors at Pennsylvania and Cedar Street on March 15, 1950.
The rented library in the North Greenwood area soon outgrew its quarters. A new building, designed by Architect Eugene Beach, opened on Palmetto Street next to Pinellas High School in September, 1962 with 15,000 books. The Edward Allen Henry, Jr. Special Collection on Negro Culture and History was authorized in 1970 to be housed at that branch, where it remains today.
The population of Clearwater increased to 15,535 in 1954, and City Manager Middleton recommended the Library's long-range plans include branch libraries in the northern and eastern sectors of the city. Taxable property valuation was forty-four million dollars. The city acquired property adjoining the Main Library, as once again the building had reached a saturation point.
Basement flooding, ceiling and wall repair were familiar problems. Purchases and gifts, such as those of Donald Roebling, mushroomed the book collection to 60,000 cataloged and 15,000 uncataloged books. Circulation for July, 1954 peaked at 14,292.
According to Sarah Byers,
"Despite the fact that a number of one-time patrons have ceased to call because of traffic and parking problems, and because some of the bicycle riders are forbidden to cross the two railroad systems, we simply have not room for our stacks of books or for the people using them."
The Florida State Library in Tallahassee was petitioned for advice and assistance. An extension representative was sent in late 1950 to survey the property, the community, and to assess goals and needs. John Hall Jacobs of New Orleans also served as a consultant in 1960. He reported to the City Commission, "We have a problem." He advocated demolishing the old Carnegie building and totally rebuilding before present and future obligations could be met. Recommendations included additional staff, a community meeting room, purchase of more books, bookmobiles, and a larger building for the proposed branch library.
Due to cost constraints, the City Commission, acting on the recommendations, decided to renovate the Main Library rather than rebuild. The dedication was celebrated December 1, 1961.
The decade of the 1960s saw construction of the small branch libraries, the organization of the Friends of the Library, and the provision of Main Library service on Saturday afternoon at the request of schools. Students were required to register attendance.
Civic and service groups, such as the Junior Women's Club, the American Association of University Women, the Junior League, and the League of Women Voters and others responded to library needs by providing time and support beyond public funding.
The Beach Branch Library opened July 21, 1961 and was located at 40 Causeway Blvd., under the roof of the Memorial Civic Center. The Beach Library was moved to Pelican Walk Shopping Center in July 1999 to make way for the roundabout and other beach construction. In July 2008, the Library became part of the Clearwater Beach Recreation Complex, the first shared-use venture between the City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department and the Clearwater Public Library System. While this project was under construction, the Beach Library was temporarly located in a trailer in the parking lot of the Recreation complex.
1962 saw the start of the Wickman Memorial Collection, a special collection of materials about the sea, which was first housed at the Beach Library, but has since moved to the Special Collections area of the Main Library. This special collection began with donations, and continues to receive donations. It is further augmented with purchases chosen to round out the collection, supply current materials, and fill in any gaps in the existing collection. Both historical materials and items for current nautical use are in this collection. From battleships to sunken treasure hunting, in print and video formats, this special collection contains materials of interest to many peoples.
The momentum of growth and change in the area accelerated, reflecting added services at the Library. The Friends of the Library reorganized in 1971 and grew, in the next ten years, to well over 500 members who, through books sales and other fundraising projects, supported the Library in many ways. The Red Cross inaugurated service to homebound residents in 1974. An interlibrary loan service was introduced to serve Clearwater patrons. Different options for library service in east Clearwater were explored, as hopes rose and fell for the building of a new large branch. The projected population growth statistics mandated the eventual necessity for an additional branch in the northern section of the city. As a temporary measure, until money for those branches was available, a "Twig" was opened in 1978 in the training room of Fire Station #5 by the Clearwater Mall. Though limited in space and books, requests for volumes from the Main Library could be filled there, and it was an immediate success.
Elliott Hardaway replaced Sarah Byers as Library Director in 1971. Coming from the University of South Florida, with extensive experience in libraries and management, Hardaway's arrival heralded new development in the life of the library. Hiring professional librarians for Reference and Children's Services, he brought the staffing up to American Library Association standards. Soon, the "Real World" youth area became a popular meeting place for young adults. Puppet shows, contests, story hours, and other programs for children and adults were presented at all library locations as increased staff made more presentations possible.
The Commission considered once again the renovation, expansion or rebuilding of the Main Library. There were several issues: should it be moved to the east? Patrons, four nationally known consultants, the City Administration, and the Library Board agreed that it should remainon Osceola Avenue in the downtown district. Should the old building be razed or repaired and enlarged? Eventually it was decided to retain and modernize the old building at less cost than new construction.
When Hardaway retired in July, 1976, the issues were being discussed. Althea Andersen was named Acting Director. During the next two years a computerized circulation system was proposed.
Nancy Zussy was appointed Library Director in 1978. Construction was funded for improvements at the Main Library by a $500,000 donation from Mr. and Mrs. William Adler, $200,000 from an LSCA grant, and $800,000 from the City of Clearwater. The Library Board, including ex-officio member representatives from local high schools, were jubilant. Early the next year the Commission approved a contract with Architects Watson and Company, and a construction time table was set. Although branches were important, it seemed best to concentrate immediate efforts on restoring the Main Library as the heart of the system.
Recent Happenings (1980-present)
Well attended festivities dedicated the Adler addition on October 19, 1980.
Several years earlier, the projected 1990 population for Clearwater was approximately 80,000. The 1980 U.S. Census figure was 85,528. Library Director Nancy Zussy resigned to serve as Deputy Director of the Washington State Library. Main Library problems of space were temporarily settled and attention returned to the building of branches. Aleta Cozart of the City Manager's office served as interim Director until the appointment of Linda Mielke in June, 1981. Having coordinated twenty-three libraries in Maryland, with extensive experience in marketing and management, her enthusiasm for public service and interest in library technology brought a new perspective to the Clearwater Public Library System.
Mielke soon presented an outline of services and materials for two full-sized branches. A campaign for support through the passing of a bond referendum provided new focus for the energies of all library supporters, including Dean Young, creator of Blondie and Dagwood. Though the 1982 referendum failed, as had one in 1977, it was clear that the citizens were, in large part, behind the construction of community libraries. While supporting the concept of a county wide system, as it had for years, Clearwater needed more library buildings. The City Commission approved a .25 millage increase for an east library. For years different sites had been considered, but the Hunt property at Drew and Belcher Streets was selected. Ground was broken for the Clearwater East Library in May, 1984.
That same year the automated circulation system was installed and the Greater Clearwater Public Library Foundation, Inc. was organized. The Foundation formulated two major objectives: to provide library enhancements beyond the traditional tax-funded services, and to provide library access to the unserved. Projects have included the establishment of the DATABASE PLACE, an online reference service; and the Youth and Family Assistance Program, which funds "scholarship" cards for children residing outside the city. The Friends of the Clearwater Library also supported the Youth and Family Assistance Program. Since its inception, the Friends of the Clearwater Library has instituted many well received projects and programs, including the Adler Literary Arts Festival and the Scholar's Choice Lecture and Discussion Series.
Construction of library branches was of primary concern and interest. The North Greenwood Branch Library was renovated in 1985, and September of that same year marked the East Library dedication. The Commission approved use of $1 million in surplus funds for construction of the Countryside Library in September, 1986. Its 15,000 square feet floor plan is similar to the East Library and reflects its exterior surroundings. The building was dedicated on October 23, 1988.
In 1991, Linda Mielke accepted a position in the Ann Arundel County (Md.) Library System. During the following year, the Library was led by a Management Team of Division Managers, Althea Andersen, Carolyn Moore, Marsha McGrath, and Linda Lange, under the supervision of Deputy City Manager, Kathy Rice. At the end of that experimental period, the decision was made to hire a Library Director. After a nation-wide search, Dr. Arlita Hallam, of Fort Worth, Texas, was hired and began her duties on October 1, 1992. When she was promoted to the position of Quality of Life Administrator for the City, John Szabo became director in October 1999. Szabo was formerly director of the Palm Harbor Library.
In July 2000, voters authorized the city to issue bonds for the new Main Library to be built and selected the site by referendum. The total cost of the project was $20.2 million. The building was designed by world-renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern, Dean of the Yale University School of Architecture. It was built to serve as a cultural attraction and northern anchor of the downtown area, with gallery exhibits, special programs, and a variety of community activities to be enjoyed by residents and visitors. Our grand opening was May 1, 2004. Photographs of the Main Library construction are available on the library's photography archive.
The library welcomed a new director, Barbara Pickell, in August of 2005. Her library career began at the Timberland Regional Library in Olympia, Washington, immediately after her graduation from the University of Washington with a BA in English. In 1977, she received her MLS from Emporia State University in Kansas. She has worked in special, academic and public libraries in Washington, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Kansas; and has directed libraries in California, New Jersey and Ohio She is actively involved with Intellectual Freedom issues and organizations. She is also a strong advocate for equitable pay, diversity, outstanding customer service and staff growth opportunities. Her primary focus is to have the Clearwater Public Library System serve the needs of the residents of Clearwater and the surrounding area.
Access to any public library in Clearwater means access to books in all five facilities through the automated catalog. Staff and supporters now train their sights on long-range goals and objectives indicative of the library service needs of their patrons in the 21st Century.