By Pamela Hitchins/Vicksburg Post
VICKSBURG – The city’s only used bookstore is 25 years old this month and still might be one of the best-kept secrets in town.
At The Bookmark, on the first floor of the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library, used books are sold by the inch.
“It’s a little off the beaten track,” said Shirlye Stahl, president of the Friends of the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. “Unless people have children and go downstairs to the children’s area, they don’t necessarily know it’s there.”
The idea to sell books the library could not use was born when Stahl, head librarian Deb Mitchell and others were cleaning out the library’s garage which houses the bookmobile. People had donated so many books that wound up being stored in the garage that Mitchell had the idea to start selling them.
They began Jan. 1, 1986, Stahl said. People would stack their selections, line up a tape measure and pay 25 cents an inch.
“We always did it that way,” she said.
Stahl still has the little notebook, going all the way back, with figures penciled in. The Friends made $101.88 from book sales that first month.
The Bookmark’s name came from local students who entered a poster competition. Three of the framed posters still hang on the walls today, Mitchell said.
Vicksburg’s public library got its start in 1915 with the gift of $25,000 from the Andrew Carnegie Library Fund. Local lawyer Joseph K. Hirsch was president of the library association at that time and traveled to New York to secure the grant.
Carnegie library funds came with a stipulation that the city provide the site on which the library would be built and also buy the books, wrote Marion Bragg in a history of the public library.
“‘Who will give the necessary site?’ the newspapers asked expectantly,” Bragg wrote. “The answer was a long, sullen silence. Now Carnegie’s ingenious methods became apparent: How could the city officials pass up the gift of a $25,000 building for lack of a lot to put in on?”
Eventually, a site on the west side of Monroe Street, opposite what is now the Memorial Rose Garden, was purchased, and on April 5, 1915, H.H. Havis, a local contractor, won the bid for the library’s construction.
The building was ready for opening ceremonies March 7, 1916.
“Everyone greatly admired the fine building, with all its excellent equipment and furniture,” wrote Bragg. “One of the speakers pointed out that all it needed now was books.”
The Carnegie-funded library remained in use for more than 50 years before it was outgrown, and the library moved into its current building in 1979.
Today, The Bookmark brings in about $500 or $600 a month, Stahl said, and the Friends group has about 100 dues-paying members.
Proceeds from book sales and money raised through the $7 dues fund a number of library projects and provide Christmas bonuses for the library staff.
The Friends have bought furniture, had chairs upholstered, provided prize money and guest speakers for the library’s creative-writing contests and made it possible for the library to buy about 300 DVDs for its circulating collection.
Each summer, they also pay for Dorian the Magician to perform at the final kids’ summer reading program party and buy refreshments and goodie bags.
The Bookmark is well-stocked with audio books, large print books, nonfiction and shelves double-stacked with fiction. There’s a large selection of paperbacks, shelves of children’s books and a table loaded with recent magazines.
Though some of its stock comes from discarded library books, most are items people have donated, Mitchell said. Things that don’t sell within a reasonable time are removed, but Mitchell won’t say what happens to them – only that they are “recycled.”
“It’s there, take advantage of it,” Mitchell said of The Bookmark. “It’s good for people who like to read but don’t want to have to keep up with library books. People are discovering it all the time.”
“The bottom line is, we have enjoyed it and I think the whole community has enjoyed it,” Stahl said. “It’s been a fun program.”