When you think of West Tampa, you may not think of the area’s library. But a step inside, and you’ll see it preserves a lot of the areas history. In fact, the building even holds a lot of history.
First, the land it sits on was actually donated by a prominent cigar factory owner, Angel Cuesta, back in the early 1900s.
It’s one of only 10 Florida libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, making this a Carnegie Library.
When speaking of some of the area’s lifelong residents, “They have a lot of memories built in the library because it’s been a part of this community for so long. And the one we get the most is, this was before my time before I was here, but down the street, down Howard Avenue was the original Olympia bakery,” explains Supervising Librarian Amanda Jones.
The library was constructed in 1913 with a Neo-Classical Revival style, in fact, it’s the same building that currently serves the community. An expansion did occur in the early 2000s.
“You have stained glass windows that are part of, which are my favorite part of the new Reading Room, which is actually new as a relative term because it was built in 2004. But it’s new comparatively because the old building was built in 1914,” explains Jones. “The stained glass windows, they are by artist Cynthia St. James. And it’s just, you don’t see it in too many of our libraries.
So it’s something that’s pretty unique. But it’s a beautiful way to put permanent art into the building. And it’s something that we can appreciate every day and at closing time.”
The West Tampa Library is also considered part of the West Tampa Historic District and a City of Tampa Historic Structure. It is a historical link between the establishment of the City of West Tampa, the Cigar industry, and the Latin and African-American communities.
“And at that time, what would have been the predecessor, the public library system, especially in these communities, especially in Florida, with the cigar factories, in the factories, you would have what was called elector or a reader. And they would, you know, they would come in, and they would read as the workers were rolling the cigar is you would have this reader who would either read the newspaper, so that was like, you know, that was your Twitter in the day, that was your keeping up on current events, that was you’re checking in, or a lot of times they would read what we would now consider classic novels, and some were classic at the time, and some were, you know, popular novels at the time, but you know, you would have your Count of Monte Cristo or your Les Miserables or those, you know, epic classic stories, which again, that was their Netflix, so to speak, that was there. So you had the electors reading to the residents. I always find that very interesting because the person who donated the land to build the library was a cigar factory owner named Angel Cuesta. So it is very forward-thinking and also very forward-thinking in terms of literacy in terms of education, to build a free library that the whole public could access,” explains Jones.
And that history is preserved right here in the library.
“And actually, upstairs we have a little shadowbox display, that that kind of nods to that legacy, like we were the first library, but even before us, this was the literary tradition of the West Tampa community. And those shadowboxes are actually they were a gift from we were able to create them and purchase them with a gift from the mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council.”
As West Tampa develops, the library does, too. Serving every aspect of this community.
“West Tampa is historic. There’s a historic Hispanic neighborhood here. There are still many, you know, Spanish-speaking residents here in our community that the library serves. And there’s also many non-Spanish-speaking residents as the community has evolved over time. So one thing that’s special about the West Tampa library is that we have a permanent Spanish collection. So you will always be able to find, in addition to English language, and other languages, literature and films and resources. You’re always going to find a good amount of Spanish language resources. We always concentrate on our Spanish and bilingual collection for those communities, something we’ve really found is that we have customers who they primarily speak Spanish at home. So they want to continue that language with the kids as they learn English in the schools. But we also have customers who primarily speak English at home, but they want to introduce that language to their children. So that’s something that’s really special, and we concentrate on something else about this library is that I guess I’m trying to think of the new part of the library before we move on,” says Jones.