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Day 5: St. Petersburg, Florida to Boston, Georgia

Carnegie libraries visited: West Tampa and Mirror Lake St. Petersburg, Florida

Florida has Disney World, oranges, anti-woke policies, gators, and Gatorade. It does not have Carnegie libraries, or not many, anyway. Only ten were built there, or six fewer than Wyoming. Four of the ten Carnegie libraries in Florida have been demolished, and only two of them – West Tampa, and Mirror Lake (St. Petersburg) – remain open to the public.

Annie McRea, along with Councilman Ralph Veillard and W.L. Straub (the owner of the St. Petersburg Times), were the driving forces behind the Mirror Lake Carnegie Library. McCrae was offered the position as the first librarian, but she turned it down as she was serving as the secretary of the library board and believed that would put her in a conflict of interest. She remained a passionate advocate of the library for the rest of her life.

McRea wrote a lengthy essay on the library for the St. Petersburg Times on December 20, 1914: “St. Petersburg’s New Library and Something About Those Who Made It.” (Great title!) She writes “I do not know of any subject about which there seems to be greater misapprehension than that of obtaining a Carnegie library…It really is as clear as the way of salvation.” (Clearer, I believe.) The way is to write to the Carnegie Corporation to express interest, and they send back application materials to be followed. St. Petersburg’s leaders believed, it appears, “that it was necessary to approach a cold and awe-inspiring presence [Carnegie] with supplications and the aid of powerful mediators. Some have intimated that a well-planned campaign of bluster and bragging would secure the prize.” McRea, “growing weary of the fruitless discussion [of the local dignitaries], one day, without advice from anyone” wrote the Corporation for information. After some great delay, McRea received the pertinent information, and the process moved forward. The town got the Carnegie grant. The library was necessary because, as McRea put it, so that “the young men and boys might find good books, and through reading be spared the temptation of questionable amusements.”

While construction was proceeding, it was time to furnish it and buy books. These tasks fell to the city board and also the “Library and Municipal Advertising Commission.” McRea publicly wondered why these two distinct functions were merged into a single commission (“I was always unable to see the logic of it.”) Still “Much as I deplore it, and as egotistical as it seems,” she wrote, “I am the only person who has held office continually in both organizations…having served as secretary of each for the full term of their existence.” The library was soon stocked, and in good order.

Americans are not a people that care passionately about its history, for better or worse. We tend to care more for tomorrow than for yesterday.  For the purposes of this project, it's definitely for the worse. The Boston Carnegie library does not have its own wikipedia page, and I cannot find other material about its history, either. The website for the current library does not even mention the library’s history.

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