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Checking Out the Library
March 29, 2006

There it is—in any town, any city—a constant. If you have some time on your hands, you can step in and pick up a best seller. Got a question? Maybe a small factual dispute? Run on down or even pick up the phone and call. Want to share some fun with a little one? There is the Toddler Storytime.

Check out the news from our town and from others. Spend some time on the computer. Pick up a video for tonight, or a recording of great music or lively stories to make the next car trip more pleasant.

Where?

You know where. The library.

That's right. The library is always there, and always has been.

Not quite.

The library has been at the center of Bainbridge life for a mere 104 years. Before 1902, hot, cranky and bored kids didn't have a summer reading club to take them to faraway times and places; there was no reference desk, no New York Times, Albany Herald or even a Search Light (as it was known then) hanging on a rack.

Since next week is National Library Week, seems to me like a good idea to pay a visit to the history of our very own library—The Decatur County/Gilbert H. Gragg Library on the corner of Monroe and Shotwell.

Around Valentine's Day in 1902, some concerned women (could it be the mothers of some of those cranky, bookless kids?) organized themselves and decided to organize a library. They set up meetings, put announcements in the Search Light, and set their goal. They hoped for one hundred subscribers, paying $3.00 each. By April they had almost attained it. They had raised $225 and organized a board of directors.

April 29 is the official birthday of the Bainbridge Library. The Search Light invited everyone to attend the formal opening—and to bring along a book. The library occupied rooms in the Sam Hines Building on the corner of Water and Broad Streets. Miss Annie Campbell was the first librarian.

Library supporters continued to help the library grow. They sponsored everything from lectures to baseball games. The high priority (just as it is today) was enlarging the book collection—particularly books for children. Among the first books the library acquired were Alice in Wonderland, Twice Told Tales and the Uncle Remus stories—all books that are still (but not the same volumes!) waiting on the shelves to enchant our twenty-first century children.

At some time the Bainbridge Public Library moved to the upstairs room in the then City Hall—now part of the Firehouse Center and home to the Decatur County Historical Society. In 1913, a lot on the corner of Broughton and Crawford Streets was donated as a site for a new library. It did not rise until 1940 when WPA federal funds supplemented by County and City funds made a new building possible.

Like other community organizations, the library pitched in during World War II, helping those newcomers stationed at and working at the Air Base and their families. The library made room for the Red Cross operations.

Dorothy Spence, MLS, arrived in 1951. As the first professional librarian here, she led the library into a new era. In 1967, Ruth Marshall—well remembered and loved by the community—joined the library as associate director. She became the director in 1971, remaining in the position for 18 years.

In the early seventies, the library was again having growing pains, and again the community responded. The Gilbert H. Gragg family donated land and community members made generous donations of matching funds to a Gragg family cash donation. The City and County chipped in. School children helped out by selling bricks. The State helped out as well. The dedication of the library on its present site took place on December 7, 1975.

A lot has gone on since then. Susan Whittle, the current library director, arrived in 1989 when Ruth Marshall retired. The building underwent extensive remodeling and expansion followed by a rededication in 1994. Today it brags a stellar Children's Collection (thanks in large part to the generosity of the Kirbo Foundation), an active Friends of the Library organization, a strong and growing Foundation, Internet access. . . so much more. If you want to learn more about the history of the library, ask at the desk of a copy of the centennial anniversary celebration booklet. It is the basis of this sketchy history. If you want to know about current library status ask for the fact sheet and learn that the Southwest Georgia Regional Library System has 20,785 registered card holders, 26,644 Talking Books serving an 11 county area and lots, lots. . .and lots of other interesting and impressive statistics.

In fact, you don't have to go to Shotwell and Monroe to ask, for the library is all over Southwest Georgia! From its early days the library has reached beyond its four walls to expand its services. In 1952, the library joined with Seminole County to become the Decatur-Seminole Regional Library. Their pooled resources provided more and better services to both counties. The Southwest Georgia Regional Library System now has libraries in Decatur, Seminole and Miller County.

The Bookmobile is a common sight around the three counties as it takes books to those who have difficulty getting to one of the libraries. Residents of personal care homes and school children benefit alike as do residents in Brinson and Recovery and other more distant communities.

This is nothing new. In 1935, Freddie Campbell became a traveling librarian providing direct rural service. She used her own car to cover the county carrying books to schools, communities and homes across the county.

The library has been on the road ever since. In 1938 the first new bookmobile in the State of Georgia rolled into town. In February, 1951, we acquired a new Ford vanette to continue bookmobile service. Today's Ford vehicle is on the road about as much as the library is open.

Am I exaggerating when I say our library is great library?

No.

In 2002, the Southwest Georgia Regional Library was one of three in the country to receive the National Library Service Award. Director Whittle, accompanied by several members of the library's professional staff, received the award from First Lady Laura Bush at a breakfast reception and ceremony in the White House.

High praise indeed!

The library does not rest on its laurels. So far in 2006 it has hosted the acclaimed Holocaust Exhibit and the Artsfest Maine, Regional and Student Art Exhibits as well as the Decatur County Artists Guild's accompanying show. It hosts story hours and sponsors book discussion groups. The monthly computer classes have a waiting list. (Better sign up now!) The always outstanding Summer Reading Program will get under way just about the time school lets out. (We still don't want bored kids!)

You can keep up with library going ons in the library's column here in the Post Search-light. Better, drop by the library and check it (and maybe a book or video) out. While you are there, tell the staff thank you for being here.

bookmobile
The first bookmobile in the State of Georgia, Decatur County, 1938.
library
The home of the Decatur County Library from 1940 to 1975.
It is now an antique and gift shop—The Old Library.


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