A Never-Failing Spring - Our Public Libraries
- story by Carole McKellar
“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” - Andrew Carnegie
Our public library lies at the heart of what makes Bay St. Louis a desirable place to call home. Studies find that people like to live near libraries and frequently decide to move to communities with strong public systems. Libraries are considered essential to the needs of an educated and literate population. Thankfully, we have an excellent library system in Hancock County.
Public access to books has a long tradition, possibly dating from Roman scrolls made available to patrons of the baths. Circulating libraries were established in the 18th century, but they charged a subscription fee for their services. Private subscription libraries controlled membership and thrived as exclusive clubs. Peterborough, New Hampshire founded the world’s first tax-supported public library in 1833.
Philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie provided money to start libraries throughout the United States. Carnegie built 1,689 free public libraries between 1883 and 1929. Eleven of those were built in Mississippi. The first Gulfport library was funded by Carnegie in 1916. The Carnegie Foundation also funded the libraries at Millsaps College and the University of Mississippi. My husband remembers going to the Carnegie Library in Clarksdale, Mississippi. That library, built in 1911, is still operating in the same building today. According to current government statistics, there are 9,207 public libraries in the United States serving 97% of the population.
During difficult economic times library budgets often decrease, though their role becomes more important. During recessions, libraries prove their worth to the community by offering job information, preparing resumes, and assisting online job applications.
There are many reasons why libraries matter. Let’s start with books. Most people can’t afford to buy or don’t have room for all the books they want to read. Our library has a large selection of books, DVDs, audio books, and e-books for loan. There are periodicals and reference books. If you are not sure where to find what you need, friendly, helpful staff members are readily available.
Computers are available to residents, and Internet access is free. Classes that improve digital literacy and use of online research tools are provided. The goal of the library is to provide lifelong learning for all members of the community by offering a wide range of programs for all ages.
All of our library branches have charming and engaging children’s sections that make early literacy a pleasurable experience. Story time is provided weekly at each branch for children from birth to age five. The programs include storytelling, crafts, and music.
The website, www.hancocklibraries.info/, is comprehensive. You can reserve books using their online catalog, or find the schedules for activities and events, such as Matinee in the Bay or the latest Authors & Characters event.
Meeting and conference rooms are available for community use. The rooms accommodate activities as varied as voting, movies, lectures, book sales, and a variety of classes.
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” - Andrew Carnegie