While attending the LYRASIS Leadership Forum in Tampa, FL, I had the amazing privilege to meet Renelda Sells, the Chief Librarian at the Manager of Technology & Collections.

During the forum, Sells spoke passionately about a project she was working ; an interactive oral display which captures the African-American history of the Tampa community, located at the newly renovated Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library.

After the forum I expressed my interest in this project, and with much enthusiasm, she graciously invited me and my colleague, Alexis Johnson, to take a one-on-one tour of the library.

Nestled in the heart of a once thriving African-American community, the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library is a state of the art facility which includes a 350 – seat community room, with a full catering kitchen, a children’s room with moveable furniture to accommodate large groups and students from the nearby schools, and even a recording studio.

Upon entering this impressive building, we were met with an overwhelming sense of pride as the dedication and passion exudes throughout the library. From the beautiful artwork created by local artists of ministers, teachers and other community leaders, to the artifact collections, you can’t help but feel inspired by the passion and effort that was put into celebrating the history of African-Americans.

Described by Sells as a “labor of love”, the interactive oral display and artwork exhibits life in Tampa’s Central Avenue, a well-known area where black-owned business flourished in the early 1900’s, once called the “Harlem of Tampa”. As each interactive display came to life with the voices of the community, we could feel the enthusiasm and excitement from the storytellers.

Sells attributes the success of this project to the grant they received from Story Corp. and to the encouragement of the Tampa community and neighbors encouraging their neighbors to share their stories.

With all of the widespread interest and support of the Tampa community and surrounding areas, I am sure the collections will continue to grow and evolve and the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Library will continue to be a beacon of hope, bridging the gap from the glorious past to the prospering and hopeful future.

If you would like more information about the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Library or the Story Corp. Project, I encourage anyone attending this year’s ALA in Orlando to make time to visit with Renelda Sells, who will be a panelist at the ALA Genealogy Preconference.

Genealogy Preconference – Free, but registration is required*         
This free workshop will help librarians of all types learn techniques. This can include a better understanding of genealogy research methods and sources. It can also include how libraries can leverage their unique holdings to become more relevant to genealogists, who tend to be passionate in their support of libraries that have useful materials.

Date: Friday, June 24

Time: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Location: Orange County Convention Center, W304 A-B