Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library to be new name of county facility on Newtown Boulevard

Meeting room to be named for the late Ed James

Betty J. Johnson. Image from the Newtown Alive website

New signage is expected to go up soon to alert patrons and other visitors that the Sarasota County library located at 2801 Newtown Blvd. in Sarasota has been renamed the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library.

Additionally, the meeting room in the facility will be named in memory of Edward James II, a prominent activist in the Newtown community and the county who died last year.

On a unanimous vote on April 10, the County Commission approved the changes at the recommendation of the county’s Library Advisory Board, which served as the Name Selection Committee for the process.

David Turner, chair of the advisory board, officially made the recommendation to the commission.

In response to a question from Commissioner Michael Moran, Turner acknowledged that the recommendations were the unanimous choice of the advisory board/Name Selection Committee members.

Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out that, as chair of the commission in 2018, she met with “the gentlemen who were representing Newtown” who initially proposed the library be renamed for James. “It seemed like a brilliant idea.”

Detert told her colleagues about that discussion during the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 23, 2018.

Instead of the North Sarasota Library, Detert pointed out, the name would represent a member of the Newtown community.

Later, leaders of the Friends of the North Sarasota Library requested the commission honor Johnson, a retired librarian who made the first daily bookmobile visits possible in Newtown.

On April 10, Detert asked Turner whether the Name Selection Committee’s decisions “satisfy the people who originated the idea [of the renaming process]?”

“We believe so,” Turner responded, adding, “They seemed to be very pleased with the decision.”

A graphic shows the location of the library in North Sarasota. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Perhaps historical photos of Newtown could be hung around the library, Detert continued, to showcase “the early days” of Newtown.

Turner responded affirmatively.

“That’d be just great,” Detert replied.

“I think that this is probably a good agreement,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “Ed James was a real titan in that community,” Ziegler added, noting James’ leadership on issues countywide. “I’m excited to see him being recognized.”

“Thank you for kind of meeting in the middle,” Ziegler told Turner.

“We were impressed with [James’] bio, also,” Turner responded.

Material submitted to the commissioners in their packets for the April 10 meeting said that community members who proposed that the library be renamed for James had noted that he was “always helping people to become better citizens” and “[a]lways working on committees for improving the community and seeking ‘justice’ for everyone.” Additionally, James was very much involved with the Sarasota branch of the NAACP, the document said.

Ed James addresses a joint meeting of the Sarasota City and County commissions on the topic of homelessness in November 2015. File photo

Advocates for naming the facility for Johnson pointed out that her efforts to make books available to children and adults in Newtown ultimately led to the establishment of the North Sarasota Library, in 2004. “It is impossible to put into written form the impact that her lifetime commitment to this dream has had on the Newtown Community,” the commission agenda document said.

After the vote on a motion by Moran, seconded by Detert, to accept the committee’s renaming recommendations, Sarabeth Kalajian, director of the county’s Libraries and Historical Resources Department, pointed out, “Ms. Johnson is in our audience today. … She’s been anxiously and eagerly following this [process].”

Chair Charles Hines called out a greeting to Johnson, and sustained applause rang out through the Commission Chambers.

Then Hines asked Kalajian how soon the new signs would be going up at the library.

“Not today,” she replied. Nonetheless, she continued, staff had obtained an estimate for the expense of the changes that would need to be made.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question this week, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester said the Libraries and Historical Resources staff is pushing to get the new signage erected at the library, “but unfortunately they do not have a date yet” for completion of the project.

On April 10, Kalajian did announce that the 15th anniversary of the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library will be observed in the fall. “We’ll be folding all of this [renaming initiative] into that celebration, as well,” Kalajian said.

Hines indicated his pleasure with the plans.

“I’m sure we’d like to attend,” Detert added.