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From Days Past...The Library's Forgotten Past

August 20, 2010

During the depression, the WPA conducted the county library program. These Maben youngsters enjoyed reading sessions with a WPA worker who traveled the county making books available.

Fire of 1875 destroyed Oktibbeha’s First Public Library

In 1871, Starkville boasted of a free public library. According to a local newspaper article on April 6, 1928 by an interested citizen, Col. W. B. Montgomery took the initiative in organizing the Library Association. His idea being chiefly, the youth of the community as beneficiaries. The existence of this public library was revealed when discovery of a Life Membership Certificate of the Library Association was found among some old papers of Albert Montgomery, the young son of W. B. Montgomery. These certificates were valued at $10 and were no doubt purchased by parents to help the library fund while opening a door of culture to the children. The Hon. Wiley Nash, a young lawyer and a very public spirited citizen was the Secretary of the Library Association. The building housing this library, the second story of a store, was burned in the 1875 fire that destroyed 52 other buildings in town. No effort was made to restore this recognized loss to society. Then, nor since then, until the auspicious time when the Woman’s Federated Club has removed the stigma of a cultured people. Minus a well of knowledge, free to every thirsty mind in Oktibbeha County.

Woman’s Club of Starkville Newspaper Headlines for Library

The Women’s Club spent many laborious and endless hours securing a library. These newspaper timelines only give a sketch of their organized efforts. We owe this club a debt of gratitude.

• 1924 Pooled their book club books as a nucleus for a public library until 1927. Whitman Davis, A. &M. Library Director served as their advisor.
• Oct. 14, 1927 – A Public Library – At the Woman’s Club meeting at Dr. J. W. Eckfords, Mrs. W. B. Owen read a list of 10 reasons why the college library cannot take the place of a free public library in Starkville.
• Oct. 21, 1927 – Membership Drive for Library launched costing $1 per year. Books were secured and placed in accessible places throughout the town and books circulated from one to the other. Juvenile reading was the emphasis. The youth must have wholesome reading as well as wholesome food.
• Nov. 11, 1927 — Public Library Assured. The Library Association met with the Board of Supervisors and asked for assistance. The board enthusiastically took the matter under consideration immediately and gave the committee a room in the courthouse for the library, also agreeing to furnish heat and lights. The room designated is across the hall from the county agent’s office on the second floor and has been used before as a ladies restroom. The room is in very good condition and will be fitted up by the association.
•February 18, 1928 — Library makes progress. Board of Supervisors gave the use of a large room on front upstairs in the courthouse and several tables, chairs, etc. Alice James from college library agreed to work 1 day each week and properly catalog the books, set up a filing system and the other necessary things to give the library the proper start.

Work Projects Administration (WPA)

• 1935. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Work Projects Administration (WPA) whose purpose was to provide useful work to the millions of victims of the Great Depression. Roosevelt hoped to preserve the skills and self-respect of these unemployed people. Also, he hoped that the economy would in turn be stimulated by the increased purchasing power of these newly employed people.
So it was that the WPA took over the library in Starkville and extended it throughout the county. Mrs. Bonnie Belle Scales was the first supervisor of the WPA Library Program in Starkville. She received the money for the books and bought second-hand ones in order to stretch the number that could be bought. WPA did not pay the library supervisors like the other worker. WPA workers must have been paid directly because there is no mention of their salaries in the regular bookkeeping records of the library. The county paid bills and for additional books. There were library branch stations in Center Grove, Craig Springs, Double Springs, Longview, Maben, McMinn Chapel, Osborn and Sturgis.
• Center Grove. Miss Ollie Vaughan, librarian. She rode horseback taking books to shut-ins and read to children in groups sitting on the grass.
• Craig Springs. Mrs. Wilma Fondren was in charge of this library station. She felt that she was not doing enough business there and rented a room at Sturgis and distributed books. This building in Sturgis was an old one near Drane’s Hardware Store. She paid the rent herself and the only heat she had was a small charcoal burner. The fumes gave her terrific headaches.
• Double Springs. No information available
• Longview Mrs. Irma Johns, librarian
• Maben. The library station was in the back of the building occupied by Dr. Fondren’s drug store (now United Dollar Store) Mrs. Ella Gable was in charge. She, her sister and son lived in two rooms of the store. The telephone exchange was also located in this store. Rev. J. W. Kitchens, father of Mrs. Annie Mae Hamilton, later librarian at Maben, would drive Mrs. Gable to Starkville every two weeks to exchange books. Maben citizens donated many books, as did other units.
• McMinn Chapel. No information available
• Osborn. Mrs. Eulla Mae Mitchener, librarian
• Self Creek. The library station was located in the Self Creek School house and the librarian was Mrs. Vernon Harrell.
• Sturgis. The library station was in a building in the block between the intersection of the Sturgis-Morgantown RD and downtown Sturgis. Mrs. Elsye Tooles was the first librarian. John Tooles and Joe White were youth workers. Fifty books were checked out at the courthouse in Starkville and returned every two weeks for others. The library was kept open two afternoons a week.
• Oktoc and Sessums. There seems to be no record or memory of library stations at either of these locations. These people had more personal books and magazines available than in some sections of the county and seemed to have swapped them around the neighborhood.
The WPA workers at all of these stations met every Saturday morning at the courthouse. They were taught why reading was so important, how to mend books, simple cataloging, circulation procedure, and the necessity of courtesy in dealing with patrons. Occasionally they had a book review.
The imagination and energy of the workers contributed much to the programs at these stations. People donated magazines that were picked up by youth workers. These were distributed or used by children at the centers. Children made booklets using magazine pictures, choosing their own themes. Many had story hours and home visitation reading. When WPA ended, the entire book collection from all stations went to the general collection at Starkville.

Today’s Library

The library today is quite different than in the early beginning or the WPA days. The Starkville Public Library serves as headquarters library for the Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library System and is located in the community of Starkville, Mississippi, home of Mississippi State University. The library is an integral part of the community, offering not only books and reading materials, but art exhibits, community collection displays, programs and cultural events for all ages.
You’ve probably heard someone say it before, or seen the quote on a bumper sticker:
A city with a great library is a great city.

Patsy Peeples Remembers...

With my mother’s permission I was allowed to walk up to the courthouse to our very own library. Never shall I forget walking into that room for the first time and seeing all of those books, aware they were free for the borrowing. Since I was a child of about 9 or 10, my choices were limited by the librarian. That which I took away for my lifetime was the wonder of being surrounded by books. That tingle of enlightenment really never left me, I suppose. I became a school librarian. When in repose, book in hand, I see an unending line of children leaving our little school library, clutching their books and smiling at me. That was me once upon a time, hugging my books and hurrying home to read.

Sam T. Polk, Sr. Remembers...

Sam T. Polk, Sr. remembers the drive for the library. I remember Mena Blumenfeld always trying to get funds for the library. I would refer to it as Mena’s library because she worked so diligently.

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