‘Uniting for the library’ draws awe

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2001

Wow! That was about all I could say as I listened to Toni James tell me about the year-old $3.2 million public library in McComb.

My friend Joan McLemore, who is director of the library at the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, had given me the tip about Mrs. James and her new building.

And, though I do not know whether Natchez wants or needs a different facility from the Judge George W. Armstrong Library on South Commerce Street, the question of how that land-locked building could grow had come up during interviews in recent weeks.

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McComb and Pike County held votes a few years ago on issuing bonds totaling $2.2 million to construct the new facility. In the county, 83 percent voted in favor of issuing the bonds. In the city, an even more whopping 93 percent gave the nod to the facility.

The story became even more amazing as the library director told what came next. Once money for the building was assured, library supporters organized a fund raiser by direct mail to raise another $1 million to furnish and equip it.

Wow! I asked Mrs. James how that success made her feel. &uot;It’s the biggest high you can have,&uot; she said. &uot;It was really thrilling that that many people cared about their library.&uot;

The story really begins years ago, when the McComb library was put into an old post office building that had been enlarged in 1975. &uot;We had outgrown that building a long time ago,&uot; Mrs. James said. &uot;It was a bad location. There was no room for parking.&uot;

The librarian and her board had been talking for a long time about a new facility, she said. In the mid 1990s, things began to happen.

&uot;First, our Rotary Club paid for a consultant to come and make some space plans. That was absolutely wonderful,&uot; she said.

The consultant not only figured out what McComb and Pike County needed in a library but held a public meeting to show the final plans and explain what his findings meant to the community.

&uot;So we had a plan and we put a dollar figure on it,&uot; Mrs. James said. &uot;And the real catalyst was that the community was behind it. We took all the information out to the people and told them everything they needed to know to make a decision.&uot;

Wow! I had to say it again. McComb is a city of about 12,000. The county has a population of not quite 38,000.

The new library opened in March last year to rave reviews. Mrs. McLemore had visited it recently, describing the setting as well as the interior space, which includes an art gallery, a study room, a genealogy room and &uot;a children’s section that is the envy of everyone.&uot;

Back in 1963, the Armstrong Library also opened to rave reviews. Indeed, it is a lovely building and fits decoratively into the neighborhood. And, as library board member Beverly Aldridge said, &uot;So many people walk to this library. So many children ride their bicycles to the library. In a way, I’d hate to see it move from downtown.&uot;

Any question of moving or even expanding the Natchez library probably is not the point anyway in analyzing with envy the McComb story. Money is tight for almost all Mississippi towns and counties. In Natchez, just our monthly electric bill for street lights is $25,000, for example. We simply have to wonder – I do, for sure – how the people in Pike County could be so united on an issue like a library. Wow!

Joan Gandy, special projects director, can be reached at 445-3549 or via e-mail, joan.gandy@natchezdemocrat.com