OLDSMAR — There are many ways to determine the popularity of a local library—annual attendance, card holders and donation totals are all good barometers of a facility’s success.
Another method is to hold a party and see how many people show up, and judging by that metric, the Oldsmar Public Library is a smash hit.
Officials for the facility at 400 St. Petersburg Drive E., in conjunction with the Friends of the Library, the Woman’s Club of Oldsmar and the Oldsmar Historical Society, staged a celebration of the library’s 100th anniversary on Jan. 26, when more than 200 people passed through the doors during the two-hour ice cream social-trip down memory lane.
“The Friends were taking count of the attendance, but stopped at 200,” Library Director Susan Hurley said after the event, adding it became “too difficult to count with all of the people going in and out of the room, and with the large overspill into the hallway.”
The immense turnout spoke volumes about the importance of the Oldsmar Public Library in the commu-nity, an institution started in 1919 by the century-old Woman’s Club of Oldsmar, which was originally located in the old bank building at 101 State St.
The new library, a nearly 20,000-square foot modern facility featuring retro design elements, opened ex-actly 11 years to the day of its centennial celebration, and under Hurley’s leadership, it has become a community gathering place for young and old alike.
“The number of events and programs and amenities the library offers now, and the kids and residents who have been impacted, is amazing,” Mayor-elect Eric Seidel said. “It’s modern and secure and it’s so well operated, too. Susan and her staff have done a remarkable job.”
There was plenty of praise for Hurley and her staff throughout the event, which in addition to ice cream with all the toppings featured a comprehensive video on the library’s history, music from the group Our Musical Chairs and a poetry reading from Steve “Gator” Black. But the ceremony also served as a tribute to the librarians and directors who came before her.
Toward the end of the event Hurley, who has worked at the library for 15 years, the last three as director, was joined by three original Oldsmar librarians — Orchid Rogers, the facility’s first volunteer librarian; Nancy Mellican, the library’s first paid librarian and director; and Bert Webber, who succeeded Mellican — where the trio received certificates of appreciation and posed for a group photo.
Rogers, who still teaches Spanish at the library, recalled the difficulty they had receiving funding for the facility in the 1970s.
“I had to fight like hell for every dime we got,” the 71-year-old Rogers said. “Other cities at the time were getting $200,000 in funding, and so I went to the City Council and asked what funds were available for us.”
Rogers said she also convinced city leaders to take control of running the library, which she is “very proud of,” and in the ensuing decades, the facility became a staple of the community.
Longtime library user Gina Rodgers underlined the century of tradition the city has established since it was founded by automobile pioneer Ransom E. Olds, in 1916.
“This library has so much character. I just love it,” Rodgers said. “It shows that Oldsmar is so progressive — not even three years after R.E. Olds founded the city it had a Woman’s Club, which went on to start the library. It’s such a progressive city and 100 years on, we’re still going strong.”