Don’t forget the look of the library

Published 12:09 am Friday, May 27, 2011

It is a good thing that tourists have plenty to see when the horse-drawn carriages stop at the corner of Commerce and Washington streets. The Jewish temple, Trinity Episcopal Church and the French Second Empire house Glen Auburn give the carriage drivers plenty to talk about as they direct tourists to look to their left when approaching the intersection. Those three landmarks anchor the south end of their circuit around downtown Natchez.

It is not surprising that carriage drivers rarely ask tourists to look to their right, because if they did, tourists might wonder how a city filled with such beautiful churches and houses would have such an eye-sore for a city building.

In the last decade, the exterior of the George Armstrong Library has fallen into disrepair. The dark green shutters hang forlorn as individual louvers fall out of the their stiles and fall to the ground. In some places, shutters are missing and in others, the panels hang precariously from their hinges.

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Due to neglect, paint peels along the building’s cornice rendering the building’s signage nearly invisible.

This disrepair has not occurred overnight. Instead, rain showers and summer heat have slowly taken their toll on the building.

The public library has always been a favorite stop for travelers who are looking for an Internet connection or a little information about Natchez and surrounding areas. Even when the library is closed, tourists have been known to sit on the park bench outside the building using the library’s wireless signal. During hurricanes Gustav and Katrina, evacuees used the library as their only connection to home.

Certainly, a city that prides itself on history, preservation and small town hospitality doesn’t want to leave visitors with the impression that it doesn’t take care of its buildings. Yet the city watches as the exterior slowly deteriorates before the eyes of residents and tourists alike.

The city holds the title to the building which houses the library and the land on which it sits. The library board is responsible for the contents of the building — the books, computers, videos and furnishings, while the city is responsible for major maintenance repairs to the building.

In an age of declining population and tax revenues, maintenance has taken a back seat to more glitzy and glamorous developments. In the recent past, both the mayor and board of aldermen have made a big deal about the city’s dire financial situation. At the same time they tout new riverfront and recreation projects.

Of course, there are simple, inexpensive measures that would make the library look markedly better than it does today. Instead of letting residents watch the library’s shutters collapse to the ground one louver at a time, why not remove the shutters and store them until the city can find the money to restore and rebuild them? The building, after all, does not need shutters and would look infinitely better without them.

With a little attention to maintenance, the city can return the library to a condition that doesn’t elicit head shaking from passersby.

Who knows, carriage drivers might even ask their customers to look both left and right.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or