Philadelphia-Neshoba County Public Library

230 Beacon Street
Philadelphia, MS 39350
Phone: 601-656-4911
Fax: 601-656-6894

History of Public Library Service in Neshoba County

Like so many other public libraries in Mississippi, the Neshoba County Public Library was brought into being by a group of women. In this instance, it was the Twentieth Century Club in 1929.

Realizing a need for a library, this group sponsored a book shower and at the same time individuals made monetary contributions. The largest sum of money, however, came from a trust established by a former state representative, W. A. Ellis. Ellis had represented Neshoba and Leake counties in the Legislature at a time when a salary increase was voted. He had bitterly opposed the increase, refused to spend it, and had it put in trust for library use to be divided between the counties to be served.

As the sponsoring organization talked about the formation of the library, it became evident that they wished to serve the entire county so they chose the name, Neshoba County Public Library.

The County gave permission for a jury room in the Courthouse to be used to house the library. The space was prepared and Club members held an open house for the public to come and see the County’s new cultural institution.

The Club was soon to decide that a larger place was needed due to more books and greater usage. In 1933, a committee from the Club went to the City Board and asked for the use of a plot north of the Philadelphia High School. This was the Works Progress Administration time and by using W. P. A. funds and a wide community effort, a log cabin library was built.

When the open house was held by the sponsors, many people came and the immediate use of the library facilities began. The libraries of the County and City schools were sparse and the teachers, who wished, checked out 20 books on a monthly basis for students to use.

The W.P.A. program provided the library’s first paid librarians. They were in succession: Elbert Graham, Mrs. Ben (Fannie) Chisholm, Miss Alma Cook, and Mrs. Martha Edwards. The latter served four years and was succeeded by Mrs. Marie Croswell who served as librarian at the log cabin until 1955.

During 1942, the name of the sponsoring club changed to The Philadelphia Woman’s Club, when the Twentieth Century Club and the Culture Club merged. The two major projects of both clubs were continued – a scholarship fund and the Neshoba County Public Library project.

At this time the library was supported by the Club through cake sales, rummage sales, gifts from friends of the library and now and then contributions from both the City and County, ranging from $25 to $50.

It was a hand-to-mouth existence. The Carnegie Foundation sent monthly books for a Children’s Book Shelf and the library maintained a shelf of best sellers which were rented for 10 cents per week.

Despite the monetary difficulties and out-of-the-way location of the library, the book collection grew, users increased and sponsors saw that the library had outgrown its quarters. But as Mrs. Lena Jones pointed out, “the main thing that influenced the Club to seek a new location was that although serving the County from corner to corner, it has become known as ‘The Woman’s Club Library’ instead of its rightful name. Also it was felt that a more stable financial base was needed as well as better facilities and more services”.

So, in 1955, the library committee of the Club approached the Mississippi Library Commission for advice on a future program for the library. Upon advice from the Commission and following many meetings throughout the County, the committee went to the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors and asked that they levy a one mill tax, as provided by state law, in support of a public library. This was done and the Supervisors appointed the Neshoba County Public Library Advisory Board: Mrs. Ira Hill, Mrs. Jody Hamilton, Susie Nelson, Mrs. Henry Nance, and Mrs. Walker Jones.

A contract was entered into with the Meridian Public Library in October 1955, to serve Neshoba County both in the library and with the county-wide bookmobile service beginning in November. The books were moved to the rooms in the Courthouse on the first floor, designated by the Board of Supervisors for the new home of the library.

The Boy Scouts moved the books from the log cabin into the Courthouse. Mrs. Marie Croswell was branch librarian in the Courthouse and the library was open five days a week and soon went to six. The Woman’s Club provided shelving and delivered books to the Booker T. Washington School to serve as a branch library administrated by the school librarian.

The bookmobile began making regular stops including the schools, eventually adding stops at the Wells Lamont Glove Factory, Garan, U.S. Motors, Deemer Lumber Co., and the Mothers and Fathers Memorial Home.

Exhibits were presented each month by local artists. A story hour for preschool children sponsored by the Home Arts Club was established and a Summer Reading Program for children became a yearly event at the library and on the bookmobile. Expanded services were offered including the loaning of films. Large print books, pictures and recordings. Service to the blind was instituted as was interlibrary loan.

In July 1968, the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors after careful consideration, voted to cancel the contract that had run for 13 years with the Meridian Public Library. The Supervisors appointed a Board of Trustees of the Neshoba County Library. They were: Mrs. Lois Callahan, Mrs. James Vance, Mrs. J. W. Allison, Mrs. James Madison, and Mrs. Walker Jones. Mrs. Croswell had returned as librarian and Mrs. Mavis Tingle served as librarian for a year. Mrs. Tanya Brumfield served about a year. Mrs. Tingle was again appointed.

A significant thing happened in 1969 in the growth of the library. Michael Baker contracted by the City made a comprehensive survey of the community. The report stated that the County Library contained approximately 1.9 books per person within the planning area and about .7 books per person in the County. The report also indicated the library did not contain sufficient space to provide needed facilities such as a study room, reading tables, children’s room for story hour and other services.

The report recommended a library with at least 6,000 square feet to serve the County. Following this the Board of Trustees set its sights on the construction of a fitting library for the County and began to seek a suitable location. After several locations were considered, Richard Molpus offered to give a site on Beacon and Main Streets. This was accepted by the Library Trustees in June 1973, and plans got underway to construct a library building.

Mrs. Ann Vance, Board member, was quoted by the local press as saying, “We would like to build a library that the people of Neshoba County will be proud of. We will need the support of everyone and encourage contributions and memorial gifts. With the Board of Trustees and the Chamber of Commerce working together we can make this a reality.”… [A number of committees were appointed to oversee the various phases of construction.]

With the hiring of Cooke, Douglass and Farr, Architects, the planning of the building by the committee, the Board of Trustees with the help of the Mississippi Library Commission as consultants, plans were formulated and the contract for the building was let in August 1975. The building was built and equipped following a $507,000 budget. This had been met with state revenue sharing funds, County Library maintenance funds, County wide tax levy, City of Philadelphia contribution, Mississippi Arts Commission, Ab DeWeese Youth Foundation, Richard Molpus, Weyerhaeuser Foundation, Emerson Electric Foundation and many, many citizens of the County. This enabled the library building and equipment to be virtually debt free when it was dedicated. Mrs. Courtney Tannehill was named Director in August 1976, and immediately plans were made to move into the new building at 230 Beacon Street.

In September 1976, the Board of Trustees named an arrangements committee to plan the formal opening and dedication of the Neshoba County Public Library. They set formal ceremonies for Sunday afternoon, December 5, 1976. Dr. James McComas of Mississippi State University gave the dedicatory remarks. An open house followed with more than 600 citizens of Neshoba County in attendance. They saw a handsome, modern, well-planned building encompassing more than 10,000 square feet, the latest in lighting, heating and cooling. The main room is a length of more than 150 feet. A meeting room to seat 100 people, a small conference room for 10 to 12 people, staff lounge, kitchen, office and work room completed the facility. All of this was without architectural barriers to the handicapped.

An interesting fountain, “The Rainmaker” by John Hamrick, made possible by the Mississippi Arts Commission and a matching gift by Dr. and Mrs. Billy Molpus graced the walk and entrance.

Efforts were made to bring all facets of Neshoba County’s population into the library to acquaint them with public library service.

The Mississippi Library Commission awarded in 1976, and for four years succeeding, bilingual grants. This was to support the training of bilingual teachers, the development of Choctaw books and reading materials, to foster the appreciation and understanding of the value of the use of the public library.

The library shows about ten displays each year. It holds pre-school story hours for public and private kindergartens, on a pre-scheduled basis, four mornings a week from November through May. The Brown Bag Book Group, a book discussion group, meets on the first Wednesday at noon each month. The Neshoba County Historical Society was formed at the library and had helped in the development of a large genealogy collection and is assisting with the collection of historical material of the County to be housed in the library.

The Brown Bag Book Group and the Neshoba County Historical Society co-sponsored with the Library a proposal to the Mississippi Committee for the Humanities for a scholar-in-residence to work in the project, “Diverse Origins, Common History.” This was funded and Dr. Seena B. Kohl was based at the Library for the year 1981.

The library’s meeting rooms are used by hundreds each year. The displays are seen by thousands, both in the meeting rooms and in the reading rooms. The record collection of many types includes a large collection of American Indian music. The microfilm collection includes The Neshoba Democrat from 1902 to 1977, county census records, civil war lists, early Indian records and will books and indexes to deeds held in the Chancery Clerk’s office The Library has doubled its collection since moving into its new building. Periodical titles have tripled. Plans are being discussed concerning the expansion of the present facility to house the expanding local history collection, and a much needed work room. Present members [1981] of the Board of Trustees are: Mrs. Audrey Allison, Mrs. Peggy Breazeale, Albert Latting, Mrs. Marietta Oswald and Mrs. Ann Vance.

(Thanks to Lena B. Jones and Janice R. Fulton for use of their papers.)

***Mrs. Tannehill’s history of the Neshoba County Library was taken directly from the Centennial Issue of The Neshoba Democrat, dated August 6, 1981, page 7.***

1981 – 1990

This was an active time for the Neshoba County Public Library! In October of 1981, the Board of Trustees and Mrs. Tannehill began to discuss plans for an addition to the Library that would incorporate the expanding local history and genealogy collections. In April of 1983, the architectural firm of Cooke, Douglass and Farr, Ltd. Was hired to design the local history/genealogy addition and by February of 1985, the addition had been completed and was in use.

In November 1986, Mrs. Tannehill proposed the start of a new summer program that would assist children who had fallen behind in their reading skills and by the summer of 1987, it was an active program. Children from Philadelphia Elementary and Neshoba Central Elementary Schools in grades 1 through 3 who need extra help in reading skills are recommended for the program by their schools and they spend six weeks of the summer in an intensive reading program. This program, funded by the Molpus Family, has helped hundreds of children in the past four years and hopefully will help hundreds more in the future.

In January of 1987, the Board of Trustees expressed an interest in automating the library with an on-line catalog an automated circulation system and cataloging system. In October of 1988, retrospective conversion of the library’s collection began. In July 1989, the Dynix Automated Library System was chosen and a contract signed. The system was up and running in February 1990. The two area high schools have been linked via modem and telephone lines to the on-line catalog, the first (and so far only) such link-up in the State of Mississippi. The new system has been so successful that several other library systems have sent staff members to observe it in action, including the library systems from Meridian and Hattiesburg.

On December 31, 1990, an era came to end. Mrs. Courtney R. Tannehill retired from the Neshoba County Public Library after fourteen years of service.

1991 and Beyond

Directors

Jeanne Elizabeth Stewart-December,1990 – December, 1991

William G. Martin-July, 1992 – September, 1994

Angus M. Prim-January, 1995 – March, 1998

William D. Majure-April, 1999 – March, 2002

Madonna Green May-October, 2002 – September, 2012 

Jacob Starks-August, 2013-September, 2013

Jacob Starks-February, 2014-

The Neshoba County Library currently uses the automation services, Agent Verso, with Auto-Graphics, Inc. The website address is www.neshobalibrary.net

Due to the generous support of the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Alderman, the MS Band of Choctaw Indians and through state, federal, community, and personal grants, the library’s holdings has been built back up to 29,359 items. This number continues to grow each day. There are 14,898 card holders which is more than ½ of the 29,134 population living in Neshoba County. Over 5000 patrons walk through our doors on a monthly basis.

Board Members:

  • Member District One-Bobbie Seal
  • Member District Two- Vicky Shelton
  • Member District Three-Sherry Dungan
  • Member District Four-Diane White
  • Member District Five-Cecil Hooker