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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Mississippi Libraries: Port Gibson

After years of working in home health out of state, I moved back to Mississippi and began working in libraries. For the past fourteen years, twelve of them here at the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC), I've checked out books, answered reference questions, and mastered the intricacies of interlibrary loan. While all this makes me a better library staff member, my job is significantly different from that of someone who works at one of Mississippi's many academic libraries, public libraries, or other special libraries. In my role as Social Media Coordinator, I was recently given the opportunity to connect with Mississippi libraries in a new and rewarding way: by accompanying MLC's library consultants and public relations staff on site visits.

Harriette Person Memorial Library Director Helen McComb shows off new comic books acquired through an LSTA grant.
Harriette Person Memorial Library in Port Gibson was my first destination and I was thrilled to reconnect with Director Helen McComb, a fellow comic book fiend and book lover. When we arrived in the small town of almost 1,600 near the Mississippi River, she gave us the grand tour of the library located in the historic Main Street District. It's packed to the brim with books for kids and adults, as well as a periodical section, several small reading areas, a children's area, and an AWE Early Learning Literacy Station. This station was purchased several years ago with Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant funds. (LSTA funds are administered through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and MLC.) From the moment we arrived there was a continuous flow of people in and out of the building, making it obvious that this library was a well-used community staple.

The Claiborne County Board of Supervisors purchased this historic building on Market Street to serve as the library in 1991.

Every inch of space is used while still keeping a light, airy, and inviting feel in the building.
This AWE Learning Early Literacy Station entertains while teaching key skills kids need for school and life.

The YA/Teen section of the library is filled to the max with new books purchased with LSTA funds prominently displayed.
After the tour, my coworkers and I quickly pitched in to prepare a craft that would follow storytime. Helen collaborated with other Mississippi library staff and dreamt up an ingenious idea for DIY tambourines: this project was quick, easy, low-cost, and kept to the Summer Library Program's 2018 theme Libraries Rock. (Instructions at end.) I was impressed! We watched as the people streaming into the library became shorter when community day camps, like those at Cultural Crossroads and Families First, arrived with groups of children and mothers and fathers brought in their kids. This has to be one of the most familiar sights for librarians across the state; the beautiful thing is that these stalwart partnerships develop hundreds of lifelong library lovers.

MLC Library Consultant Ally Watkins reads Mole Music by David McPhail to a rapt audience for storytime.

Library Director Helen McComb prepares rudimentary tambourines for her Summer Library Program.

MLC Social Media Coordinator Elisabeth Scott assists with some tricky threading.

After an engaging storytime that was filled with music and moles, questions and answers, and laughter and applause, seats around the tables were quickly filled with kids ready to be creative and make some noise. Helen and her staff deftly moved between helping children make tambourines and assisting regular patrons meet their needs. As tambourines were completed and the group began to thin, we slipped away with a box of collection boost books. (Collection boost is a program that allows public libraries to borrow popular materials from MLC and circulate them to their communities for up to a year.) Library staff sent us to a nearby eatery popular with locals; Rosie's catfish is light and tasty, y'all. Helen told us she would write up her event and other library happenings and deliver them to the Port Gibson Reveille, the community's now weekly newspaper that has reported the news since the 1800s. Her relationship with the paper allows her to share the library's past and future events with the community at large and keep them informed about important news.

Shake your tambourine!
Public Relations Director Susan Liles shows off a finished tambourine.
When I think of libraries, places like Harriette Person Memorial Library spring to mind before such noble buildings as the New York Public Library or the Library of Congress. While those libraries perform exceptional services, small town libraries like this one are the backbone of library service in Mississippi. They know their patrons, the people who walk through their front door every single day. They know their community, including local businesses and nonprofits, and work with them to make their library a community hub. And their librarians know their libraries, eking out entertaining programs on limited budgets and pinching pennies to get the next great book in a child's hands. These are my libraries and I'm proud of them.

"Shake It Like Helen" Tambourine

Supplies needed:
2 small paper plates
5 bells
36 inch length of yarn
markers, crayons, or colored pencils 
hole punch
  • Decorate backs of both plates
  • Line up plates and staple together using 1 or 2 staples
  • Punch 6-8 holes around the rims of the plates
  • Wrap a piece of tape around the end of the yarn, making it easier for small fingers to thread
  • Thread yarn through the holes using a whipstitch
  • Add bells as desired
  • Shake your tambourine
  • Remember that libraries rock!
Until next time, visit your local library and enjoy happy reading!

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