History of the Library
Throughout the nineteenth century, settlers migrated into the area known today as Pinellas County. At the center of the area was a large lake, rich farmland, and, by 1880, numerous residents living in loosely connected, informal communities. The arrival of the Orange Belt Railroad in 1886 (and the railroad's requirement that all station stops have names) encouraged the residents to select the name Largo, after the area's large lake, as the name for the community. Largo's location, rich farmland, and access to transportation quickly lead it to become the center of the area's citrus industry, and in 1905 the town was officially incorporated.
Nine years later, in 1914, the Ladies' Improvement Society reorganized into the Largo Woman's Club who decided that the fledgling community of Largo, Florida, population approximately 350, needed a library. This original Library Committee consisted of Mrs. D.F. Judkins, Mrs. W.F. Belcher, Mrs. J.T. Jackson, Mrs. W.M. Ulmer, and Mrs. Ann McMullen. To encourage support for the new library, a large camphor tree located in the heart of downtown Largo became a "Christmas Giving Tree." Underneath the tree, enthusiastic residents left books, magazines, and even wood for bookshelves and furnishings.
The campaign to create the public library resulted in an initial library collection of 560 books which were shelved in a downstairs room of the wood frame Town Hall building. This Library was officially opened on April 7, 1916. Marie Allen, was paid $2 weekly to serve as Largo's first librarian. Jennie Danforth Judkins, a strong Largo Library advocate, served as the library's second librarian. Such was her dedication to the library that a local legend developed that Mrs. Judkins read every book that was added to the library's collection before it was placed on the shelf.
As Largo's population grew through the 1950s, the Largo Community Improvement Association held a community forum to determine what facilities residents desired and found that a new library was near the top of the list. In 1960, the City of Largo purchased property for the site of a new town hall and library facility along West Bay Drive, between Second and Fourth Street SW. The groundbreaking for the new $36,000 library was held on December 15, 1961. Ms. Helene Tilley served as head librarian on opening day. By the time an addition was completed in 1968, it was estimated that Largo Library contained 14,000 books. Yet, even after the expansion, dramatic increases in circulation led the Library Board to begin looking for a suitable new facility.
In 1974, local businessman John Jenkins presented the City of Largo with a challenge: he would donate almost five acres of land (which was the site of the Pinellas County Fair, a branch office of the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, an orange packing and shipping plant, a mattress factory) to the City only if it would agree to his stipulation that the land could only be used for a library. The City accepted the proposal and on May 15, 1977, library director Barbara Murphey opened the new $1,000,000 facility. The new facility contained 30,000 volumes and was operated with a staff of 21. The building was expanded in 1989 and the facility contained over 250,000 volumes and a staff of 65 employees and 130 volunteers who served an average of 1,500 visitors per day. In the mid-1990's, preliminary discussion on how to correct a problem with the library's parking lot entrance (off a now removed street on the library's west side which was so small that emergency vehicles were frequently blocked from entering the parking lot) quickly evolved into a study of the need for a new library. From this study, the City of Largo decided to build the library's current facility, using sales-tax generated from the Penny for Pinellas tax initiative.
2005 proved to be an important year for the library. In order to conform to the modern conventions of the profession and to help clearly define the purpose of the organization, the library's name was changed to Largo Public Library. Then, on July 31, a new 90,300 square foot facility opened under the leadership of library director Casey McPhee. The new building more than doubled the available space of the previous facility and quickly became a landmark right in the heart of Largo's busy Central Park. During the first year of the new library's operation, more than 558,000 visitors who borrowed 683,000 items. Twenty-eight thousand people attended library programs and an astonishing 85,000 reference questions were answered.
Economic impacts of 2008 led to efficiencies in automation and reduction of staff. In 2009, Largo was the first library in the county to institute drive through service, this full-service addition to the library allows patrons to pick up holds, get a library card and pick up program materials from the comfort of their vehicle. The library has an automated materials handling (AMH) system providing more efficiencies with checking in and sorting returned material. A year of celebrations were seen in 2016 for the 100th anniversary. Florida Library Association named the library as the 2018 Library of the Year. That same year through fundraising efforts, outreach service was implemented with the acquisition of the LYN (Library in Your Neighborhood) Bookmobile. Recipient of the Florida Library Association 2019 Libraries Change Peoples Lives award.
2020 was an opportunity to find innovative ways to support the community during the pandemic, including initiating same day service, virtual programming, chat service, home delivery, upgraded self-checkout stations as well as virtual English Language Learning (ELL) tutoring, and genealogy research service and classes.
While today's Largo Public Library is a far cry from what began beneath a camphor tree, the library continues to play an important role in the community and will be for years to come.