Bernadette Storck and her mother used to walk to the West Tampa branch library. The building had a sweeping front staircase like something out of a movie.
“And it was such fun to borrow books,” Mrs. Storck said during an oral history interview with the University of South Florida in 2009. “The librarian there’s name was Marian Stewart. I remember her very well.”
“Marian Stewart was a chunky little lady who looked like the traditional librarian, and she did say, ‘Shh!’ sometimes. But she loved me, and I loved her.”
When Mrs. Storck’s family moved to Seminole Heights, her mother took her to the branch there, “and we walked over there to discover that Marian Stewart was the librarian there! And so, we struck a chord.”
Mrs. Storck spent her life striking chords between people and communities. She built libraries, managed them, defended them, helped them grow, built a school to train librarians and knew the real magic began when a child opened a book and fell into a new world.
Mrs. Storck died May 17, a week before her 86th birthday, under the care of hospice after suffering from multiple health issues.
She found the library as a child, and Mrs. Storck found work there as a child, too.
“I don’t remember how old I was; maybe 12, maybe 11. My first library job was to go with Ms. Stewart to knock on doors to collect overdue books. … The fine was two cents, and I got to keep a penny for every book I collected.”
Two weeks after graduating as valedictorian from Sacred Heart Academy in 1953, Mrs. Storck started her first job at Tampa Public Library. She married an Air Force man, started a family, and soon moved to New Jersey. After a divorce, she and her three children returned to Tampa, and Mrs. Storck returned to her childhood library in Seminole Heights.
She convinced the library director to let her arrange the opening of a new building. She wanted everything perfect.
“He gave me a week, and he put on his jeans and his cowboy boots, and he came out and we put every book — with other help — in its place. The day that door opened, that library was ready to go. Every card was filed; every book was in its place.”
As she worked at the library, Mrs. Storck also worked at learning. She got her undergraduate degree at the University of South Florida, then her master’s at Florida State University in Tallahassee. There, she took a class in business administration.
“And we were sitting around this table, and these soon-to-be MBAs wanted to know why librarians were taking business courses. At that time, I had been head of the main library for a while, and supervised several departments, and had a budget well over $100,000 for book buying. And I just looked around and said, ‘Well, gentlemen, I have X number of staff, I do their evaluations, I manage a budget, and I guess that’s business.’”
Mrs. Storck started a new role in Tampa as community relations librarian and wrote to the newspapers now and then to speak out on behalf of her profession.
In 1985, she crossed the bay to run the new Pinellas County Cooperative Library, building and expanding more libraries in the region.
“We doubled the size of the Gulfport Library. We built a new library in Safety Harbor. We built a new library in Dunedin. We built a new library in Tarpon Springs. The Pinellas Park Library was renovated and expanded...When I went over there and they hired me, somebody said to me one day, ‘You know why we hired you?’ And I said, ‘Well, I hope it’s because I’m a good librarian.’ ‘No, because you knew state politics.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I do play in that a bit, don’t I?’”
Mrs. Storck’s recounting of her life and career also illustrates what people loved about her.
“She was a ball of fire,” said Joe Stines, the retired director of Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries. “I don’t think she ever took a moment off.”
“She brought all that energy, all that wisdom, all that experience and also all that feistiness,” said Said Iravani, who got to know Mrs. Storck through a Friends of the Library program.
She was a grandmother and great-grandmother, loved gardens, art, travel and knew Roberts Rules of Order by heart, her friends said.
“She’s one of the people that kept the Florida Library Association going and on the right path,” said long-time friend and retired librarian Linda O’Connor-Levy.
Mrs. Storck created and curated the archives of the Florida Library Association. The University of South Florida has a scholarship in her name. She stayed involved with her church, family and civic organizations.
And she was a reader who loved discovering other readers.
“I watch my great-grandchildren now, and it’s fun,” Mrs. Storck said in the oral history. “I mean, when a child who never used to like to read will take a book off the shelf that’s 3 inches thick and weighs 5 pounds and get lost in it, more power to ‘em.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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