By Brenda Owen

Daily Journal

Looking for a way out of your humdrum routine? Want to escape to exciting places? Check out the Lee County Library.

The library has been an escape route for weary readers for almost six decades and for almost a century there has been a library system in the area.

Louann Hurst, director of the library, said the facility offers a myriad of services including reference services such as a computer reference system for many magazine articles, children’s librarian and story hour, a genealogy section and a patent library where patrons may check out everything from compact discs, video and audio tapes, and vintage albums, to paintings and prints.

“We are working toward an updated and expanded computerized database to provide additional resources,” Hurst said.

Presently, almost 25,000 borrowers are registered at the Lee County Library. Last year, those borrowers and others made a total of 86,452 visits to the library to take advantage, not only of books and other resources, but to make use of the meeting room facilities, browse through an artistic display or just find a quiet place to read and relax.

“We also had almost15,000 calls to our reference desk,” Hurst said.

Applying for a library card to check out books and other materials is simple, she said. Residents of Lee County or people employed in Lee County may simply present proper identification and fill out a registration form. Those not employed or living in Lee County may pay an annual user’s fee of $12 to obtain a card.

“The hardest part of getting a library card is having the patience to wait for it to arrive,” Hurst said. “It takes about six to eight weeks to get them processed and returned to us. In the meantime, though, the applicant may check out two books at a time.”

Historical highlights

Long before there was a lee County Library, there was the realization that the people of Tupelo and Lee County needed a library, wrote Elizabeth Holcomb in her historical account of the building of the library titled, “The History of the Lee County Library.”

As early as March 20, 1885, when Tupelo was only 15 years old with a population of approximately 1,200, a subscription library was formed, the history states.

Forty years later an attempt was made to establish a public library in a room in the high school. It was 1925 before an “official” library was finally established on the second floor of the City Hall with 300 books and $65.

By 1935 there were plans for a county library. In November 1935, the Works Project Administration (WPA) established a county-wide library with a staff of seven, funded with $3,084 for the year. This money provided for salaries but there was still a desperate need for adequate quarters and for books, which were to be donated. In 1937, the library was moved to three rooms in the old Commonwealth Hospital building.

As the WPA project began to phase out in 1941, Helen Foster, founding chairman of the Tupelo Federated Club Council, led the club in spearheading a campaign to get a permanent location for the library with adequate space and additional books.

In 1941, the Lee County Library was established with an appropriation of $1,500 from the Board of Supervisors. The next year, the library established one of the first bookmobile services in the state.

When the WPA assistance was finally withdrawn in 1943, Foster continued to serve as librarian, without pay for four years.

In 1948, the library was moved to the former home of Pvt. John Allen and in the 1950s the A. M. Strange Library branch was opened. The present library was built in the early 1970s.

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