Despite preliminary efforts by Hillsborough County commissioners to rename a county library after former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush — including a recommendation by Victor Crist that the New Tampa Regional Library be the one renamed — a study suggests there is no overwhelming appetite to do so.
At the request by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the Hillsborough County Library Board gathered public feedback from area residents who live near three county libraries — Bloomingdale, Mango/Seffner and New Tampa Regional — and discovered that a majority of respondents in all three areas preferred that their local libraries should continue to reflect their own communities.As a result, the Library Board, “based on the feedback collected so far and lack of community support for the proposal,” unanimously voted on July 26 to defer a decision indefinitely, pending more community input, or additional direction from the BOCC.
“We were all smiles, and very relieved,” said Joan Zacharias, the current president of the New Tampa Regional Library chapter of the Friends of the Library, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that supports public libraries in Hillsborough County. “The Library Board listened to the community; now we hope the county commissioners do the same and it goes away quietly and maybe we can revisit this when a literacy hero emerges from (our area).”
The BOCC is expected to revisit the issue at their meeting on Wednesday, August 15.
District 5 commissioner Ken Hagan, a former New Tampa resident currently running for New Tampa’s District 2 seat (see story on pg. 10), made the recommendation to find a library to rename after Barbara Bush at the May 2 BOCC meeting.
Said Iravani, an 18-year New Tampa resident and past president of the New Tampa chapter of the Friends of the Library, said Hagan’s recommendation came out of nowhere, and questioned the choice.
“He might as well have picked Moe, Larry or Curly,” Iravani said. “The library is one of the signatures of our community. What does Barbara Bush have to do with that?”
Ten of the county’s 28 libraries are named after people, but all had strong ties to the local library that bears their name and the community, or made an impact locally.
Hagan cited the former First Lady’s crusade to end illiteracy, her 1984 children’s book C. Fred’s Story that raised money for literacy and her creation of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which Hagan said, “has supported and underwritten programs across America, in all 50 states.”
Hagan also said that over 29 years, the foundation has provided more than $110 million to family literacy programs.
District 7 county commissioner Sandy Murman suggested a statue in front of a library, and Crist, who currently represents New Tampa as the District 2 commissioner, volunteered the New Tampa Regional Library as the one to be renamed.
Comm. Crist noted that he, Murman and Hagan — all Republicans — served during the time when Republican Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor.
“There is a library that was built during that period of time that I feel would be a good candidate for consideration and that is the New Tampa Library,” Crist said.
The motion carried by a 7-0 vote.
The current board, as well as the past presidents, of the Friends of the New Tampa Regional Library expressed their unanimous opposition in a letter to the BOCC.
“For those of us trying to make this community of chain stores and cul-de-sacs our home, the New Tampa library anchors us,” the letter said. “Our children play and learn there, associations and community groups meet there, and learners of all ages come to connect with new people, ideas and resources. The New Tampa Regional Library uniquely brings us together from up, down and across the ever-expanding boulevard…we ask that you consider the “New” in New Tampa as cause to let the community settle in a bit before recasting one of the few places that grounds us, our library.”
In New Tampa, 34 of 65 respondents, or 52 percent — mostly from local homeowner associations, community meetings and an online survey — said they were opposed to renaming their library.
While a few of the responses were partisan, most of those against it praised Bush and her work with literacy but questioned her connection to New Tampa.
“I would much prefer seeing the honor go to someone who ensures literacy support in our community,” one respondent replied. “Let us recognize our local advocates that work tirelessly instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the nation. I guarantee her (Mrs. Bush’s) hometown, as well as major cities where she lived and directly impacted the community, will address her contributions.”
“I voted for Bush but think this is stupid,” another wrote. “If you rename the library, at least do it for a local New Tampa community leader.”
“I admired Barbara Bush, but I think that the New Tampa Regional Library should remain just that. Replacing geographical names with names of persons, especially those with no relationship to the area, makes little sense.”
While only a slim majority voiced opposition to renaming the New Tampa Library, those in the Bloomingdale and Mango/Seffner areas were much more vociferous in opposition to having their libraries renamed.
In Seffner/Mango, 75 percent of respondents (39 of 52) were opposed to renaming their library after Barbara Bush, while in Bloomingdale, 73.5 percent (50 of 68) were opposed to the idea.
Despite the opposition, the BOCC could still decide to rename the New Tampa Regional Library. But, Zacharias hopes they don’t, although she says she is open to naming a meeting room or even the new children’s reading space after the former First Lady.
“This is not really about her,” Zacharias said. “It’s about New Tampa. People like having their library named after their community and their neighborhood.”