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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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