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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Books We Loved in 2020

A lot of us had lofty reading goals when 2020 began, but the truth is that sometimes we didn't feel much like reading. (And that's okay!) Binge-watching mindless television or baking away our troubles took precedence at times. Eventually though, we found our way back to the balm of books: books to take our minds off things, books to soothe the soul, books that showed us worlds 10,000 times better (or worse!) that our current situation. We offer the following selection of MLC staff's favorite books read in the last year. Many were published in 2020, but you'll find classics here as well. Scroll through to find well-loved books in a variety of genres for all ages. Once you're done, let us know what you loved reading in 2020 in the comments.

Comics/Graphic Novels

  • The Daughters of Ys
    M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux (2020)
  • When Stars Are Scattered
    Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (2020)
    "Even though this graphic novel memoir is aimed at middle grade readers, people of all ages will be drawn to its themes of hope, resilience, and familial love."
  • Harleen
    Stjepan Šejić (2020)

  • They Called Us Enemy
    George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (2019)
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
    Rosemary Valero-O'Connell and Mariko Tamaki (2019)
    "Learning how to respect yourself and not lose yourself when you're in a romantic relationship with someone else--this book nails it."
  • Are You Listening?
    Tillie Walden (2019)
    "Genuine human connections and a mysterious cat. I was completely entranced."
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
    Jen Wang (2018)

Adult Fiction

  • Anxious People
    Fredrik Backman (2020)
    "It’s the world’s worst hostage situation with the world’s most neurotic hostages. Backman does a wonderful job exploring what make people PEOPLE. The book clips along at a wonderful pace and just about every other chapter has a reveal that makes you re-evaluate everything you’ve read so far."
  • Wish You Well
    David Baldacci (2000)
    "I read a lot of David Baldacci this year, but this one had a particular message for me."
  • Battleground 
  • Peace Talks
    Jim Butcher (2020)
    "I have been reading a lot of escapism--no-thought, sci-fi pulp--but the back to back release of the two Dresden File books was high on my list of best moments."
    "I have been reading this series since the early 2000s and Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors."
  • The Girl in the Mirror
    Rose Carlyle (2020)
    "One of the best twisty mystery/thriller novels I read this year."
  • And Then There Were None
    Agatha Christie (1939)
  • Ring Shout
    P. Djèlí Clark
    "Alternate history considering the idea that hate turns people into actual monsters that are only perceptible to the few who fight them. Unsettling."
  • Piranesi
    Susanna Clarke (2020)
    "Piranesi’s always lived in the House…until one day, somebody else shows up. This is a weird little atmospheric fantasy book about being alone but not being alone, being trapped but not being trapped, and making the most of your surroundings. So you know, the perfect 2020 quarantine read."
  • The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
    Charles Dickens (1844)
    "My husband and I started 2020 by reading this as an audiobook while sitting in front of our fire pit on New Year's Eve. I count it, because we didn't finish until around 1:30 AM. I had always meant to read it and that just seemed like the perfect time."

  • Leopard's Wrath
    Christine Feehan (2019)
  • The Guest List
    Lisa Foley (2020)
    "A modern-day take on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None set on an Irish island. I binge-read this."
  • Into the Drowning Deep
    Mira Grant (2017) 
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
    David Guterson (1994)
  • An Anonymous Girl
    Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (2019)
  • Beach Read
    Emily Henry (2020)
    "When I was stuck in a reading slump, this book pulled me back out by the hair. Its story, at times heartbreakingly sweet and poignant, led me from cover to cover until I was at the end and wishing it would never be over."
  • The Bone Tree
  • Mississippi Blood
  • Natchez Burning
    Greg Iles (2015, 2017, 2014)
    "In my ongoing effort to read and become familiar with the works of Mississippi authors, I enjoyed several books in the Penn Cage series by Greg Iles set in the Natchez area (Port Gibson to the southwest corner of Wilkinson County). Iles's characters in these books are both intricate and audacious, spanning the concepts of both good and evil. These larger than life stories are surely "must reads" for anyone who wants to be familiar with one of the state's "to be treasured" authors. Who would think that an attempt to do the right thing would foster so very many evil actions by demoniac individuals acting singularly and in groups? During this time of isolation due to the pandemic, these three titles helped this reader to temporarily forget the stress of the virus."

  • The City We Became
    N.K. Jemisin (2020)
    "Jemisin really showed in this book that she can not only do high fantasy but is also adept at contemporary fantasy. The modern characters and setting crackle with life and wit, and the story itself pulled me taut with excitement and anticipation the entire time I was reading."

  • The Only Good Indians
    Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
    "This was a good year for horror, exemplified by none other than this book, which expertly tackles both the genre and the societal issues surrounding Native American culture. This tale is gripping, terrifying, and one I wish I could erase from my brain so I could have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again."
    "Great exploration on how our past haunts us."

  • Chasing Cassandra
  • It Happened One Autumn
    Lisa Kleypas (2020, 2005)

  • The Historian
    Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
    "I go back and listen to this audiobook every couple of years. It is such a good story and well put together."

  • Thalmaturge
    Terry Mancour (2019)
  • Pale Fire
    Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
    "Worth the hype."

  • Witch World
  • Web of the Witch World
  • Three Against the Witch World
    Andre Norton (1963, 1964, 1965)
    "I read a lot of new biographies and memoirs this year, but I got the most enjoyment from rereading an old series of books that I read as a child. Andre Norton's Witch World series first caught my attention when I was in the fifth grade, and I rejoiced every time I found a new book in it."

  • What Are You Going Through
    Sigrid Nunez (2020)
    "The Friend was better, but this was also good."

  • Moon of the Crusted Snow
    Waubgeshig Rice (2018)
    "A small town/tribal community is cut off from society for an unknown reason and must rely on their ancestors' knowledge to survive. Timely."

  • The Black Swan of Paris
    Karen Robards (2020)
    "A historical fiction WWII spy novel that delivered and made me sad when it was over."

  • Normal People
    Sally Rooney (2018)

  • The Wise Man's Fear
    Patrick Rothfuss (2011)

  • The Perfect Guests
    Emma Rous (2021)
    "I loved the flashing back and forth between the present and the past while the book got closer and closer to revealing the truth about a wealthy family."

  • Home Before Dark
    Riley Sager (2020)

  • Elephant Man
    Christine Sparks (1980)

  • The Sun Down Motel
    Simone St. James (2020)
    "A ghost story in an old and creepy roadside motel. Yes, please."

  • No Rest for the Restless
    R.W. Stone (2020)
    "First western I've read. Really enjoyed it and will read more."

  • The Past is Never
    Tiffany Quay Tyson (2018)

  • The Bourbon Kings 
  • Consumed
    J.R. Ward (2015, 2018)

  • Mobius
    Garon Whited (2019)

Adult Nonfiction

  • The Worst Journey in the World
    Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)
    "Being in the Antarctic SUCKS and Cherry-Garrard does a wonderful job explaining how. This wonderful exploration of Robert Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition is a combination of the author’s memories and diary entries from other members of the expedition. It’s a little heavy at times, but so worth it."
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
    Lori Gottlieb (2019)
  • As the Last Lead Falls: A Pagan's Perspective on Death, Dying, and Bereavement
    Kristoffer Hughes (published as The Journey into Spirit in 2014)
    "I listened to a presentation the author did about his work in May and I immediately ordered his book. It was really one of the most beautiful views of death and his pagan rituals surrounding it."
  • My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
    Leslie Jordan (2008)
  • Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
    Robert Kolker (2020)
    "After listening to a podcast by Shellie and Tracy, I read Tracy's recommendation of Hidden Valley Road. I enjoy nonfiction, and I have to agree with Tracy that it was one of my favorite books for the year."
  • Greenlights
    Matthew McConaughey (2020)
    "The audiobook is amazing since Matthew is doing his own reading for you. You can hear him smile as he reads his life stories out loud. It's simply an awesome memoir with a positive way to look at life and how best to catch those "greenlights in life" and not let the yellow and red lights slow you down. I rate it five "warm and fuzzy" stars."
  • I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
    Michelle McNamara (2018)
    "When I heard that HBO was making a six-part documentary series based on the book of the same name, I decided to read the book. Knowing that the author died before finishing the book gives the reader an added layer of context. You feel the desperation of the author to come so close to discovering the killer only to have passed away before knowing her work would result in the capture of a decades long predator. Maybe not the best for reading before bed, but a strong read for those that like true crime."
  • Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era
    Jerry Mitchell (2020)
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
    Trevor Noah (2016)
  • Erebus: The Story of a Ship
    Michael Palin (2018)
    "This is a fun, easy-to-read history book about HMS Erebus, the British naval vessel who had a tour of the Antarctic and later mysteriously vanished in the Arctic! Palin’s narrative voice is super fun and you get such a wonderful view of this ship’s history and all the places she went."
  • The Order of Time
    Carlo Rovelli (2017)
  • Open Book
    Jessica Simpson (2020)
  • Arcadia
    Tom Stoppard (1993)
  • The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
    Sonya Renee Taylor (2018)
  • Memorial Drive
    Natasha Trethewey (2020)
    "Devastatingly gorgeous, this just made me want to hug my momma close." 

Picture Books

  • Stick and Stone
    Beth Ferry and Tom Lictenheld (2015)
    "Simple, yet detailed artwork tells a story of friendship."
  • Looking Out for Sarah
    Glenna Lang (2001)
    "Beautifully illustrated story about a seeing-guide dog and his day-to-day tasks. Based on a real pup and person. Plus there is a dog. :)"
  • We Are Water Protectors
    Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goada (2020)
    "The art is stunning . The story is equally good and pairs well with the illustrations."
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
    Juana Martinez-Neal and Kevin Noble Maillard (2019)
    "I love fry bread. This book is a celebration of that delectable treat and of the indigenous people across North America who make it."
  • Unicorn Day
    Diana Murray and Luke Flowers (2019)
    "Chaotic artwork, but in a good way. A delightful tale of acceptance."
  • In Our Mothers' House
    Patricia Polacco (2009)
    "I love Patricia Polacco and this book, showcasing a lesbian couple and their adopted children, gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels."
  • My Papi Has a Motorcycle
    Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña (2019)
    "A celebration of father-daughter love and of the importance of community."
  • The Most Magnificent Thing
    Ashley Spires (2014)
    "A great picture book about emotions and creating things. Plus, there is a dog. :)"
  • Coming on Home Soon
    Jacqueline Woodson and James E. Ransome (2001) 
  • Visiting Day
    Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis (2004)
    "Both of these super sweet books focus on children who live with their grandmothers while their parent is away. I ached for them when they missed their parent--one in prison, the other far away working--but I basked in the glow of that grandmotherly love."
  • William's Doll
    Charlotte Zolotow and William Pène du Bois (1972)
    "William knows what he wants and what he wants is a doll. Smashing gender stereotypes back in the 70s!"

Middle Grade


  • The Girl and the Ghost
    Hanna Alkaf (2020)
    "I adored this Malaysian ghost tale: a girl inherits a ghost from her grandmother, setting her off on a fascinating quest."
  • Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe
    Jo Watson Hackl (2018)
    "A girl in a Mississippi ghost town named Cricket searches for a secret room her mother told her about. Well-researched."
  • Indian No More
    Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (2019)
    "Set in the mid-1950s, Indian No More tells the true story of a young girl from the Umpqua tribe. When the US government terminates her tribe, her immediate family moves to California and starts a new, very different, life."
  • The Bad Beginning
    Lemony Snicket (1999)
    "I used to love these books and it turns out I still do. I reread all of them this year, but I'm just going to list the first one."


  • The Night Country
    Melissa Albert (2020)

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest
    Holly Black (2015)
  • Clown in a Cornfield
    Adam Cesare (2020)
    "Like reading an 80s slasher film."
  • These Shallow Graves
    Jennifer Donnelly (2015)
  • Copper Sun
    Sharon Draper (2006)
  • Pet
    Akwaeke Emezi (2019)
    "Just because you pretend something is gone doesn't mean it's so."
  • Come Tumbling Down
    Seanan McGuire (2020)
    "Every year, I eagerly await the next book in the Wayward Children series. This year's installment was one of the best yet. I just want to hug these books, I love them so much."
  • Prophecy 
  • Warrior
  • King
    Ellen Oh (2013, 2013, 2015)
  • Witch Child
    Celia Rees (2000)
  • Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
    Laura Ruby (2019)
    "I love a good, non-scary ghost story and this historical mystery was amazing."

We hope you discovered a few books to read in 2021, whether they're old favorites are brand new. Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Read With Welty: Southern Sideboards

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Twelve: Southern Sideboards by the Junior League of Jackson

There is almost nothing on this planet that I love more than a cookbook, but two factors make my love grow exponentially: one, if it is from another era, and two, if it is a community cookbook, with recipes submitted from a variety of people. The Junior League of Jackson’s 1978 classic Southern Sideboards fits the bill.

I’m looking for something delicious, but truth be told, I’m looking for something disgusting, too. Part of the fun of an old cookbook is laughing at what someone thought was good. Bonus points are awarded for things that are dated, like pretty much anything involving gelatin and a mold. Look, maybe aspic is delicious. I’ll never know. Same goes for any dish that calls for a jar of dried beef. It is just not going to happen.

Mississippi author Wyatt Cooper wrote the introduction, and that is how you know that Southern Sideboards is something special: who wrote the introduction to your grandma’s community cookbook? (Probably no one, and probably not someone who was married to Gloria Vanderbilt and was Anderson Cooper’s dad.) Cooper muses on what makes food Southern, his own poor cooking skills (he says his sons politely decline his peanut butter sandwiches), but he ends with an anecdote about his uncle, who was looking for romance after the death of his wife. He really had one qualification for the role, summed up thusly: “The huggin’ and kissin’ don’t last forever. The cookin’ do.”

Welty contributed to Southern Sideboards with her delicious sounding Onion Pie recipe, which reads like poetry. I can only imagine that it tastes like poetry as well:

Some of the cookin’ (or at least assemblin’) that I look forward to taking on soon include this recipe, which wins the Awesome Name award:

Velvet Hammer
– submitted by Frank M. Duke

1 blender vanilla ice cream
2 ounces brandy
1 ounce Cointreau
½ ounce banana liqueur

Place ingredients in blender. Turn to medium speed. Mix to pouring consistency. Serve immediately in champagne glasses. Serves 4-6.

Southern Sideboards can be hard to find, but let us know if one of these recipes appeals to you and we can get you the full information:

Shrimp on Crackers
Emerald Soup
Congealed Broccoli
Mayonnaise Muffins
Mystery Casserole
Swiss Enchiladas
Impossible Pie

I hope you’ve enjoyed our Read with Welty reading challenge, and I hope next time you’re looking for something to read, you’ll consider one our selections from Welty’s home library. You can curl up with a champagne glass full of Velvet Hammer, a plate (or bowl? who knows) of Mystery Casserole, and read to your heart’s delight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Read With Welty: The Age of Innocence

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Eleven: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Part of the appeal of reading is the sheer escape from the reader’s real life, and books where entire worlds are spun and described are the very best for this kind of immersive escapism. While usually books that create their own worlds fit this bill, Edith Wharton’s novels, The Age of Innocence in particular, let us completely become enveloped in the Gilded Age. The rules, the traditions, the rituals—especially those of upper class New York at the turn of the century—seem as fantastical and far away as Narnia or Middle-earth.

I’ve written before in this blog post series that just because Eudora Welty owned a book doesn’t tell us if she liked it or even read it, but I can say with semi-confidence that Welty was probably a big fan of Edith Wharton. She had several Wharton novels, story collections, and biographies in her home library (including a couple Library of America versions; Welty would become the first living writer to have their works published by the Library of America).

While The Age of Innocence is very much about society, class, and expectations, it is also about love and missed opportunities. If you’re in the mood for a period romance that will make you cry a little this holiday season, try it out, or at least try the movie version, which is available free via PlutoTV.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Read With Welty: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

If you haven’t read Ellen Gilchrist’s 1981 collection of short stories, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, I envy you. This was Gilchrist’s first collection of stories and in it, she introduces us to characters she’d return to in future stories. In “Revenge,” we meet Rhoda Manning for the first time. Rhoda, who we can perhaps read as a Gilchrist stand-in, appears in dozens more stories at various ages. Don’t get too caught up in the Rhoda canon, though—sometimes details change, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Gilchrist’s characters are usually women, sometimes rich, and almost always Southern. In “There’s a Garden of Eden,” she combines all three:

Scores of men, including an ex-governor and the owner of a football team, consider Alisha Terrebone to be the most beautiful woman in the state of Louisiana. If she is unhappy, what hope is there for ordinary mortals? Yet here is Alisha, cold and bored and lonely, smoking in bed.

Not an ordinary bed either. This bed is eight feet wide and covered with a spread made from Alisha’s old fur coats. There are dozens of little pillows piled against the headboard, and the sheets are the color of shells and wild plums and ivory. 
The inscription in Eudora Welty's copy of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams:
For Eudora, who showed me there was a way - Love, Ellen

Gilchrist, who was born in Vicksburg, took a writing class under Eudora Welty at Millsaps. In this interview from Deep South Magazine, Gilchrist explains:

I wrote short stories for Eudora. I wrote her about one a week, and she would edit them and put these beautiful little pencil marks on them, very gentle, very light little pencil marks and I’d get it back and I’d say, ‘Well, that must not be any good,’ and I’d throw it away. I’d never heard about rewriting. There was one that she thought was publishable and I think I published it somewhere. The myths that go around about writers are not really the true stories. I’m telling you some true stories. I had a wonderful time knowing Eudora. She was my mother’s age and they had friends in common and she was just a lovely, lovely lady.

I had the luck of stumbling upon Victory Over Japan, Gilchrist’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, when I was in high school. I immediately became an Ellen Gilchrist superfan and even wrote my one and only fan letter to Gilchrist a few years later. (Exciting: she wrote back and I framed it!) And years after that, I was giddy with excitement to be close enough to her at a Mississippi Book Festival event to secretly/creepily take a photo of her. I won’t share it here because even creepy superfans have standards. 


Monday, December 7, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Jessica Parson

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Jessica Parson, Library Services Assistant at the Mississippi Library Commission! Jessica assists in the Library Services Bureau by shelving, wrapping books, filling in at our front desk, and more. She is a proud 2020 Millsaps College graduate.

Jessica began working for MLC in early November. She says, "Everyone here at MLC is so inviting and understanding. Everyone that I met here has made me feel as if I have been a staff member for much longer than a week!" 

Jessica has a lifelong love of libraries. "The majority of my childhood memories are dominated by my times in libraries. There were moments when my aunt would drop my cousins and I off at the library for a few hours while she would run errands, etc. I would always read to pass the time and, surprisingly, kept the habit. Comfort has always been found in a library for me. Libraries are important to me because they are centers for ideas and understanding another person’s mind and humanity via literature."

Jessica loves to read, so much so that she majored in English Literature at Millsaps. She says, "Literature is a never-ending dialogue between the author and the reader." Her favorite books are The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Othello by Shakespeare, and Peau Noire, Masques Blancs by Frantz Fanon. The most recent book that she finished is The Rover by Aphra Behn and she's currently reading William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. She also likes cooking, meditating, painting, film/anime watching, and writing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Read With Welty: The Remains of the Day

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Nine: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 

So far as I can tell, the only link between Eudora Welty and Kazuo Ishiguro is that interviews with them appear in the same issue of a 1991 Mississippi Review—though I’d like to think that a more thorough investigator other than myself would have taken a thoughtful dive into her letters, housed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to discover her real feelings about each of the books we’ve chosen for this reading challenge. If that thorough investigator happens to be you, please let us know what you find!

Unless there is a known link between Welty and the author—like with Willie Morris, Ross Macdonald, or Walker Percy—we’re basing a lot of assumptions on the fact that Welty happened to own these books. Did she like them? Did she even read them? If, in some bizarre twist, my books were given to an entity upon my death, and scholars tried to extrapolate meaning and connections from the books I owned, my ghost would have to step in to help those poor fools out. Never read it, meant to read it, someone gave it to me, read it and hated it, read 50 pages and hated it, hated the cover, loved it except for the end and then got very mad—these would be the spooky messages I would have to somehow deposit into my scholars’ minds. (Sidenote: I have spent way too long trying to figure out the best way for a ghost to send a message since ectoplasm is out.)

All of this is to say that we have no idea if Eudora Welty read The Remains of the Day, or if she saw the 1993 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, but we like to think she did. It’s about a man who lives a small, constrained life as the perfect butler, devoted to the gentleman he served. But as he looks back at his decades of service, and the opportunities he has missed, he starts to doubt whether he has made the right choices. This quiet novel’s subject and themes—tradition, dignity, class, retrospection—aren’t unlike things you’d find in a Welty story or novel, and for that fact alone, we’ve added this book to our reading challenge.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Russell Hawkins

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Russell Hawkins, Systems Administrator at the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). Russell began working at MLC in early November. He provides ongoing support, monitoring, and maintenance of technology systems and computer equipment, both internally to agency staff and externally to public library staff. He also works on special projects, such as assessing library technology needs and working on library websites.

Russell thinks libraries are important because "libraries allow the average person to 'get into the heads' of the greatest minds to have ever lived." He enjoys reading and is a big fan of the urban fantasy genre, especially Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and M.D. Massey’s Junkyard Druid. He just finished Garon Whited’s latest book in the Nightlord series, Mobius. Russell also likes to attend church and play the bass guitar. He and his wife have two children.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Read With Welty: The Ghosts of Medgar Evers

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

The Ghosts of Medgar Evers
is about a lot of things: Mississippi in general, Medgar Evers’ 1963 murder by Byron De La Beckwith, the third trial of De La Beckwith in 1994 (after his first two trials in 1964 resulted in hung juries), and the making of Ghosts of Mississippi, the Rob Reiner movie about that 1994 trial.

Evers, Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, civil rights activist, and voting rights activist, was murdered in front of his wife and children in his driveway the morning after President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address on June 12, 1963. De La Beckwith was tried three times for the murder, the last one resulting in a conviction.

When she heard about the murder, Welty stayed up for two nights writing her story “Where is the Voice Coming From?” The story is told from the perspective of the assassin. It was published in the New Yorker on July 6 1963, just three weeks after the murder.

Willie Morris is the best at taking a work on nonfiction—the making of a movie—and making it personal and autobiographical without hogging the spotlight. He writes of the strangeness of the blending of real life and fictional on the movie set:

The confluence of past and present, the day-to-day mingling of the dark ghosts and the better angels of our nature, graphically evoked for me on the sets of the movie, was strange and often painful but emotionally redemptive at the same time.

We chose The Ghosts of Medgar Evers out of all the Willie Morris books in Welty’s collection for several reasons: it ties into “Where is the Voice Coming From?”; Welty, though not a character, is referenced throughout the book; and it gives context to both Welty and Morris and the time and place in which they wrote. In the introduction, Morris writes, “To understand the world, William Faulkner once said, you have to understand a place like Mississippi. One loved a place, he wrote, not so much because of its virtues, but despite its faults. Faulkner understood Mississippi in his soul, and so did Medgar Evers.”

Willie Morris's inscription in
Eudora Welty's copy of The Ghosts of Mississippi

Monday, November 16, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Lawrence Smith

We have been sharing a closer look at Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) staff with Meet MLC Monday for nearly five years now. Some people stay only a short time period before deciding that working at a library was not what thought it would be. Some, however, stay, evolve, and prosper, like Lawrence Smith. He is this week's Meet MLC Monday staff and he has been at MLC since October of 1996. 

While Lawrence is still our Patent Librarian, he has added a new title since we last featured him in January 2016. He is now also our Collection Management Services Director, taking on a supervisory position and assisting with cataloging our new books and other materials. Working with patents isn't as dull you might think. Lawrence has dealt with a wide variety of inventions over the years, including a vibrating toilet seat and, on one memorial occasion, a patron who wanted to provide a demonstration of his... "business" chair.

Lawrence says, "When I first started working at MLC, we were pulling books from the shelves to view patents and trademarks. Now everything is digitized and web-based. Cataloging was done by card catalog. Now it's digitized, too."

We asked Lawrence some hard-hitting questions about himself. It turns out he is a dog-loving coffee drinker who likes the cold. Who knew?! He also told us that, if he were to set up two characters from different books, he would choose Robin Hood and Cinderella. "Cinderella was very humble and hard working. Robin Hood was more of a villain and Cinderella, I think, could tame the wild side of him."

Stay tuned as we check back in with other long-time MLC staff from time to time here on Meet MLC Monday. Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Read With Welty: Lost in the Cosmos

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Six: Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy

When I try to explain Lost in the Cosmos to people, I usually say, “Well, it’s a kind of weird fake self-help book that’s also sort of serious and metaphysical.” That’s a little hard to explain, so I usually describe this passage from the very beginning of the book:

Now imagine that you are reading the newspaper. You come to the astrology column. You may or may not believe in astrology, but to judge from the popularity of astrology these days, you will probably read your horoscope. According to a recent poll, more Americans set store in astrology than in science or God.

You are an Aries. You open your newspaper to the astrology column and read an analysis of the Aries personality. It says, among other things:

You have the knack of creating an atmosphere of thought and movement, unhampered by petty jealousies. But you have the tendency to scatter your talents to the four winds.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

Suddenly, you realize you’ve made a mistake. You’ve read the Gemini column. So you go back to Aries:

Nothing hurts you more than to be unjustly mistreated or suspected. But you have a way about you, a gift for seeing things through despite all obstacles and distractions. You also have a desperate need to be liked. So you have been wounded more often than you will admit.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

Lost in the Cosmos is really about the search for self—and why it’s so hard for us to understand and recognize ourselves. We walk around in our own heads all day, and still we don’t understand ourselves! Why is this? Percy gives us many, many chances to figure this out, with scenarios like the above, quizzes (“Is amnesia a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas because…”), thought experiments, psychology, psychiatry, aliens (!), charts, and more. Is this book satirical or serious? I think it’s a bit of both: a tongue-in-cheek way to get us to explore our own humanity.

Eudora Welty and Walker Percy were friends and contemporaries. In a March 17, 1988 with Percy’s biographer Patrick Samway, Welty said, “All of his writings fascinate me. I know they go into some type of depth I don’t even realize. I know enough to get the force of the feeling and poetic strength and all the things that mean so much to me.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Read With Welty: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Five: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

The first time I heard of One Hundred Years of Solitude was in a creative writing class. I found the class terrifying, so I basically never went back after the first week, but it was an exhilarating first week. My professor, a writer named E.A. Mares, told us about a book in which fantastical things happen as if they were commonplace. What I remember most, and what I wrote about in my journal, is the story of Remedios the Beauty, who was so beautiful she simply floated up into the heavens, to the surprise of no one. It simply made sense.

When I later read the novel, which is the multigenerational story of the Buendía family and through it the story of the town Macondo, not only did I have to keep flipping to the front of the book to consult the family tree—I love a novel that requires a family tree!—but I had to create my own to use as a bookmark for even easier access.

García Márquez’s novel received the single greatest blurbable accolade from William Kennedy’s review in the New York Times Book Review:

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. It takes up not long after Genesis left off and carries through to the air age, reporting one everything that happened in between with more lucidity, wit, wisdom, and poetry than is expected from 100 years of novelists, let alone one man.
It makes sense that a book that allegedly reports everything that happened between the Book of Genesis and modern times is not the easiest read. This is not a book to polish off over the weekend. It’s a book to dive into and to get lost inside of—an escape hatch for reality where you might encounter the wild and profound.

I don’t know for sure if Eudora Welty read the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude that she had in her collection, but I’d like to think that she did, and that she too got lost in Macondo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Read With Welty: Juke Joint

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Four: Juke Joint by Birney Imes

Eudora Welty’s photographs, taken mostly in the 1930s once she returned to Mississippi from New York, are known for their empathy and humanity. Her subjects are the commonplace: children sitting on porches, women strolling down Main Street, abandoned houses, store signs. They capture a time and most importantly, a place: Mississippi. 

State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi, 1939. Eudora Welty.

Birney Imes’s Juke Joint does a similar thing: his photographs capture Mississippi Delta juke joints of the 1980s, many of them now gone. In the introduction by novelist Richard Ford, he relays a story that comes closest to capturing the photos in words:

There is a story Birney Imes tells about a friend who suggested that none of the subjects in his photographs—these shadowed, motley rooms with honky-tonk facades, the oddly objectified humans who stare at us—none of these ever actually existed on the earth but were actually creations of Imes’s imagination—only seemed to be juke joints with men sleeping it off and women smiling out from boozy luminence.

Purple Rain Lounge, Duncan, 1989. Birney Imes.

Imes’s photos are bright, colorful, and vibrant—the viewer is nearly there. We’re in the small rooms crowded with furniture, we see the handlettered signs with prices and rules. They are, as Richard Ford says, a treat for the eyes.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Sebastian Murdoch

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Sebastian Murdoch, Patron Services Librarian/Readers Advisor for Talking Book Services at the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). Sebastian assists patrons in finding and receiving digital books from the Talking Book Services program. She holds a bachelor's degree in Literature from Mississippi College and a master's degree in Creative Writing from Lesley University.

Sebastian started at MLC just under one month ago. She says, "I like working at MLC because everyone here is so warm and welcoming, and they all genuinely love what they do." According to her, the best part of her job so far is helping people find the books they most want to read. Of libraries, Sebastian says, "I love libraries because of the possibilities and opportunities they represent. There are so many things libraries do for the community, and without them, the world would feel like a much smaller, lonelier place."

Sebastian loves to read. Her favorite book is a tie between Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. One of the latest books she read was Luster by Raven Leilani, which she says was "gorgeous and heartbreaking." When she isn't reading, Sebastian likes to write short stories. She is currently working on a novel. She delights in horror and enjoys writing, reading, and watching her favorite genre, especially if it's set in a creepy small town.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Thank You for Being a Friend

Lacy Ellinwood
Library Development Director

To honor National Friends of Libraries Week, we wanted to highlight the winners of the Chapter One and Ruby Assaf Presidential Awards that were presented at the recent Mississippi Library Association Conference. The Chapter One Award is given to an outstanding Friends of the Library group for contributions of service to their local library. The Friends of Choctaw County Library were this year’s Chapter One awardee. This group has been quite active since their inception in 2018. Their art show in August 2019 showcased 20 local artists and attracted many visitors. Their advocacy efforts at the Mississippi State Capitol and fundraising ideas have served to bring awareness to others about the Choctaw County Library System and its outstanding services. The Ruby Assaf Presidential Award honors an exceptional volunteer in a Friends of the Library chapter. Sarah Williams, with the Tishomingo Friends of the Library, is this year’s honoree. Sarah is the Vice President for her Friends group located within the Northeast Regional Library System. Sarah’s accomplishments and contributions are immeasurable. Each year, Sarah helps with the Summer Reading Program by sharing ideas, planning, and organizing events. Sarah is a hands-on volunteer. When it comes to book sales, she unpacks books, sets up tables, and helps people with their next great find. Sarah is always coming up with ways to get new books for the children’s library and is an asset to the Tishomingo Library.

These awards highlight the importance of what Friends can do for their local library and how they connect the library to the community. There are many ways Friends can shine a light on their libraries, but here are two tips from United for Libraries on how libraries can show appreciation to their Friends. 

  • Tell your local officials how important the Friends are to the ongoing success of the library. Use this opportunity to convey how the Friends raise money, promote the library, and volunteer in many ways. Submit an article to a citywide or campus-wide publication.
  • Tell the personal story of a longtime volunteer with the Friends, the impact of Friends support on programs, services, and/or collections, or how the Friends supported the library in another way.

During this unprecedented time, we have seen many new faces using our library services. This could be an opportunity for your Friends to grow their membership. Creating online membership capabilities could broaden the Friends member base. It also serves to support the Friends from a safe and socially distance space. Friends are a great connection to our communities and their support enhances libraries across Mississippi.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Read with Welty: Music of the Swamp

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Three: Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan

For one second the woman and I seemed to become twins, or closer than twins, the same person together. Maybe we said nothing. Maybe we only lay in the band of sunlight that fell across our bed. Or maybe together we said, “There is great pain in all love, but we don’t care, it’s worth it.”

I’m not sure where to even begin to tell you about Music of the Swamp. Nothing I could possibly say about this book, or really any of Lewis Nordan’s books, could accurately describe the experience of stepping into his wild, fantastic, heartbreaking world. I will try, and it will be inadequate, but maybe you’ll want to find out for yourself and read the book, which you won’t regret.

In Music of the Swamp we meet Sugar Mecklin, whose love for his daddy is vast and confusing. Fathers are often absent, disappointing, or dead in Nordan’s world, and Sugar’s is at least present, if distant and bewildering. In the title story, Sugar and his friend Sweet Austin (who doesn’t have a daddy) find a dead body in the lake. When they return to Sugar’s house to tell his daddy, Gilbert, about it, he is drunk and listening to a Bessie Smith record, unable to give the boys the attention and reassurance they need:
Bessie Smith was telling him what he already knew. You are trapped here, Sweet Austin, we all are. It don’t help to have a daddy, you’re trapped anyway, daddies will always leave, always die, always be somebody you don’t know. Daddies ain’t your trouble, Sweet Austin. Your trouble is the geography.
Music of the Swamp is a book of stories about love and death and fathers and heartbreak, but it is also hilarious in the way that weird and sad things can sometimes catch you off guard. Like this: in one story there is a four-year-old boy named Douglas who wants to be an apple when he grows up. This vexes his mother, who berates him for the choice. He’s pretty steady, until one day he says ok fine, I don’t want to
be an apple, and his mother celebrates. I want to be a dog, Douglas says. His mother sees this as progress. Not perfect, not a fireman or a senator or a painter, but it’s fine. Then he regresses and says he wants to be a cork.

Lewis Nordan grew up in Itta Bena, Mississippi, and the Delta is infused in his work. His own stepfather was friends with Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the men who murdered Emmitt Till, and Nordan wrestled with his own guilt and feelings of adjacent complicity before writing Wolf Whistle, which is based on the murder.

Nordan wrote this in Eudora Welty’s copy of Music of the Swamp: “For Miss Welty, without whose influence I could never have written a word.” We readers are grateful for this influence.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

You Say Goodbye, But We Say Hello... To National Hispanic American Heritage Month!

Unlike other month-long celebrations you might know, like Black History Month in February or Women's History Month in March, National Hispanic American Heritage Month is spread over two months. It officially runs from September 15-October 15. According to population estimates, 3.4% of Mississippi's population identifies as Hispanic or Latino and a whopping 18.5% of the United State's population does the same. In fact, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the nation, and the fastest growing group in the South. 

With all the beautiful Hispanic and Latino voices surrounding us, why don't we read more Hispanic and Latino authors? Authors like Jeanette Cummins cash in on what they think this culture is like, but for the most part do a very poor job of painting a realistic picture. I'm not here to judge--if you enjoyed American Dirt that's not a bad thing--but you can avoid misinformation and seek out authors who live this culture and know these experiences. And you don't have to confine yourself to one thirty-day period. You can read Hispanic and Latino authors all year round!

If you don't know where to start, the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) and your local public library are great places to find books written by Hispanic and Latino authors. The following are but a drop in the bucket of what's available at MLC. Feel free to click on any of the book links to request an item to pick up curbside. Many of these books are available for our BARD patrons, too.

Explore the world of fiction with short stories focusing on mothers and daughters like Sabrina and Corina, historical westerns like Rosary Without Beads, gothic noir like Mexican Gothic, and literary mystery like The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.

Julia Alvarez
Diana Holguin-Balogh
Mexican Gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Find out more about the real lives of Hispanic Americans with biographies about the son of a Mexican immigrant who joins the United States Border Patrol (The Line Becomes a River) and the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants who became the first Hispanic and Latino member of the United States Supreme Court. If poetry is more your jam, fall into the beauty of language with collections from David Tomas Martinez and Alberto Ríos.
Francisco Cantú
Reyna Grande
Alberto Ríos
My Beloved World
Sonia Sotomayor

Learning can be fun, both when kids learn about experiences that may be different from their own and about the ways we are all the same. Check out these books about popsicles (What Can You Do With a Paleta?), moving to America (Dreamers), a father teaching his daughter about her heritage and faith (Yo Soy Muslim), and integration (Separate Is Never Equal).
Mark Gonzales

Yuyi Morales
Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales
Duncan Tonatiuh
Duncan Tonatiuh

There are so many ways for kids in middle school to feel like they don't fit in: because they have trouble paying attention (Each Tiny Spark), or because they like different music (The First Rule of Punk), or even because their family embraces the food of their culture (Stef Soto, Taco Queen). Tip: for sci-fi lovers, don't miss Sal and Gabi Break the Universe!

Ruth Behar

Pablo Cartaya
Carlos Hernandez
Juana Medina 
Celia C. Pérez

Jennifer Torres

Young adult fiction offers just as wide a variety of genres as adult fiction. From novels in verse, like Clap When You Land, to books about witches and brujas, like Labyrinth Lost, to books about teens engaging in social action, like Anger is a Gift, there is something out there for everyone's taste.

Elizabeth Acevedo

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

From Cuba to Mexico and Columbia to the Dominican Republic, the Latino and Hispanic authors have books on just about every topic in just about every genre. Don't miss out on a great book--celebrate National Hispanic American Heritage Month all year long!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Read with Welty: Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

 "There is very little about a segregated America that bears nostalgia, and some readers may not be charmed by Mr. Taulbert’s portrait; yet he has evoked such loving memories of Glen Allan and its residents that readers will come away from Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored at least a little sorry that they didn’t grow up there too.”

--Rosemary L. Bray, Review of Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, The New York Times, February 18, 1990

If you do an internet search for Glen Allan, Mississippi, located about 30 miles from Greenville, you’ll get few results: a pretty blank Wikipedia page and a couple of videos touring the depleted current state of this small community. To get a better sense of what the Glen Allan community once was, you’ll have to turn to Clifton L. Taulbert’s Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored.

Taulbert’s account of his childhood and adolescence in Glen Allan during segregation—when black people were “colored”—crackles with life. The people we meet are as real as if we were there: Miss Shugg, Cousin Beauty, Poppa, Ma Ponk, Miss Doll, and many others populate both the town of Glen Allan and Taulbert’s memories. Their lives were affected and shaped by the realities of racism and segregation, and those realities are certainly present throughout the book. But the reader comes away from Taulbert’s memoir enchanted and perhaps a little wistful that we can’t go visit some of the larger than life characters.

Taulbert continues his memoir in The Last Train North, which details his experiences as he went to St. Louis in the mid-60s, and the realities he discovered of the mythical north he’d heard of growing up. Taulbert serves on the Eudora Welty Foundation National Advisory Board.

Listen to this Fresh Air interview with Clifton Taulbert:

Monday, October 12, 2020

High-Speed Internet Available to All Mississippi Public Libraries

Ethel Dunn
Executive Support Director

The Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) is pleased to announce that because Contract 5000 has officially been awarded to CSpire and signed by the Department of Information Technology Services (ITS), fiber internet will be available to every library in the state of Mississippi within an 18-month implementation time frame. 
Computer usage at Corinth Public Library in Corinth, MS
The change offers all public libraries in the state higher internet speeds at lower prices. Jennifer Peacock, Administrative Services Bureau Director, stated, “It is exciting to know that Mississippi will finally have high internet speeds, even in the most rural areas of the state. This will allow libraries to better serve their patrons and offer more programs to the communities they serve.” 
Computer usage at the Union County Public Library in New Albany, MS

In preparation for the switch, MLC staff and other state agency representatives meet each week to organize and plan the implementation. MLC is reaching out to all library systems to help prepare for the migration. When the project is complete, public libraries should see a significant decrease in cost and increase in bandwidth speeds to a minimum of 100Mbps. 
Computer usage at the Bay St. Louis Public Library in Bay St. Louis, MS

Currently, some libraries have slow internet speeds equivalent to dialup, which is challenging to their patrons. Sidney Cobb, Director at the Humphreys County Library System, said, “Many of our patrons do not have access to high-speed internet and WiFi other than in our library, and the increased speed of Contract 5000 will help us in our mission of digital inclusion. Some benefits from enhanced digital inclusion are improved education and employment possibilities, improved health and well-being, and networking with other resources.” 
Computer usage at the Dorothy J. Lowe Memorial Library in Nettleton, MS
The Mississippi Library Commission supports innovative programs and initiatives to strengthen and enhance library services for all Mississippians. The agency is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, with additional funding provided through the Institute of Museum and Library Services under provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). MLC offers leadership in library services, advocacy, and training for library professionals and paraprofessionals. 
Computer usage at Greenville Public Library in Greenville, MS

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Read With Welty: The Professor's House

photo of an old copy of the professor's house by willa cather. It is accompanied by text that identifies the author and title as well as the words Read with Welty Reading Challenge. It also says From the Collection of the Museum Division, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week One: The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

The desire to make a work of art and the making of it—which is love accomplished without help or need of help from another, and not without tragic cost—is what is deepest and realest, so I believe, in what she has written of human beings. Willa Cather used her own terms; and she left nothing out. What other honorable way is there for an artist to have her say? 
--Eudora Welty, “The Physical World of Willa Cather,” The New York Times, January 27, 1974

If you’ve read one of Willa Cather’s more popular works, My Ántonia or O Pioneers!, there is a thing that pops into your head when you hear her name: the prairie. Long descriptions of the wind rippling across the grains of wheat or grass, fertile ground, farming—that is Willa Cather to many of us. However, The Professor’s House, chosen as our first title in the Read with Welty reading challenge, doesn’t take place on the prairie at all: it’s a part academic novel, part adventure novel, and part domestic novel.

The Professor’s House is the story of Professor Godfrey St. Peter and his quiet, midlife, Midwestern, domestic, existential crisis. St. Peter is a history professor who has just won a big academic award, allowing his family to move into a bigger house. But he’s very comfortable in the old house, where he’s written all his books in the attic office, as well as where he and his wife have raised their daughters, and he decides…well, he’d really rather stay. This tiny rebellion allows him to truly steep in his own introspection, and he spends months with his life flashing before his eyes as he reviews his life’s choices and decisions.

I get it. This does not sound exciting. But wait! One of St. Peter’s students, the brilliant and mysterious Tom Outland, plays a huge role in St. Peter’s life. Tom’s backstory, which takes us to the gorgeous mesas of New Mexico, is exciting and adventurous where St. Peter’s life is stable and predictable. The middle section of the book, told to St. Peter by Outland years before about how he discovered an untouched Native American ruin, contrasts with the quiet drama of St. Peter’s chosen life.

We chose The Professor’s House over one of Cather’s better known works for a couple of reasons: we couldn’t resist that The Professor’s House was found in the Welty House (and that there’s a Willa Cather house as well!). We also thought that this quiet novel of a person reviewing their life might resonate with readers in this particularly strange year, where many of us were at home this spring and summer, potentially reviewing our own lives and decisions.

If you’ve read The Professor’s House or decide to read it now, please tell us what you think!

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Letter from Your Friendly MLC Archivist

Miranda Vaughn
Reference/Archives Librarian

Dear Reader,

This is the first in a series of letters I will be writing to you from time to time as I gleefully work my way through the hidden treasures of the MLC archives. I will be sharing interesting items, stories about the history of MLC, and any other interesting tidbits I may find on this “curiosity voyage.” First, I want to share with you a personal story about my first experience working in an archive, an experience which solidified my love for historic preservation and archival management. It’s a story of human connection found unexpectedly beneath a pile of yellowed papers.


I’ll never forget the first time I cried in a library. No, I wasn’t reading a Nicolas Sparks book or doing my taxes. I was reading a letter from William J. Love, a WWI veteran and businessman from Columbus, MS. This letter was addressed to his friend and business partner and was written the year before he passed away. I discovered this letter after spending several months going through boxes of Love’s belongings – mostly letters, scrapbooks, some photographs, and business documents. Although he had been dead for over 40 years, I felt like I had come to know him while organizing the belongings he left behind. I had read multiple letters like this one, but somehow, this one seemed very final. His health was declining. I knew he would die the following year. Maybe he knew it too.

So I cried.

It was an unexpected side effect that sometimes comes with archival work. If you’ve ever worked in an archive, or if your library has its own local history department, you are probably familiar with the situation I described. A patron goes through their recently deceased relative’s attic. They bring in half-chewed boxes of documents and photos to donate to your collection. You quickly leaf through the items to get an idea of what is in them (and check for any varmints that may be hiding between the pages). Then, you add the boxes to the stack of other boxes from other deceased relatives that you hope to finish processing before the year is out. Or the decade. Or maybe just before you retire.

Photo of slides from the William J. Love Papers in the
Billups-Garth Archive, Columbus Lowndes Public Library

The process can become very monotonous very quickly.

Archivists bear a lot of responsibility when it comes to processing collections, especially those collections that come from private donations. Not only is it the job of the archivist to analyze every item that comes into their possession, organize boxes of materials, and create extremely detailed, searchable records of the items, but they are also responsible for taking proper care of belongings that have sentimental value to loved ones. For many private donors, an archive is the final resting place of a life that they cherished. For this reason, archivists have the responsibility of maintaining a sense of reverence when processing and preserving historical records.

It is easy to get caught up in the pressures of time constraints, cataloging and copyright issues, etc. and miss the opportunity to get to know the person(s) behind the collection. Archivists have a unique opportunity that goes beyond removing rusty paperclips and translating sloppy cursive. I like to tell people that I’ll never know what it’s like to cure cancer or invent some new technology that changes the world, but I do know what it’s like to see the look of pure joy on the face of the only daughter of a WWI veteran in Columbus, MS after I finished processing her father’s papers, allowing generations of researchers the opportunity to get to know her father the way I did.

Some would call it closure. Maybe a sense of peace. I like to think of it as another special service offered free of charge at your local library.

All the best,

Your friendly MLC archivist

P.S. If you are antsy with anticipation for my next letter, feel free to check out the MLC photograph collection made available through the Mississippi Digital Library.

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