History of the Bay Minette Public Library by historyman


									            History of the Bay Minette Public Library
                   (From the notes of the Bay Minette Land Company)
                    Written by Charlotte Jones Cabaniss Robertson
                      (Director from October 1994 to October 2003)

Books were hard to come by at the turn of the century. Expensive when they could be
found at all, books from religious writings to Shakespeare to popular western novels were
a treat for the wealthy. But in Bay Minette, all of that was about to change. In 1922, the
Bay Minette Public Library was founded by the Women’s Civic Improvement
Association – an organization that itself was founded in 1913. These ladies, under the
leadership of Mrs. T.W. Gilmer (Anne), placed bookcases in one of the jury rooms in the
courthouse and filled the shelves with some 400 books netted from a book shower.

The Library Committee, having no material assets, had to its credit only the founders’
hopes and faith and the willingness to serve the people of the town. With no funds to
operate a library, the ladies’ group was forced to run on a subscription basis through the
support of the various city merchants. Through the library board, appointed by the Civic
Association, money was secured for bookcases and more books, and the ladies of the
board served as librarians, keeping the library open three afternoons per week –
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m..

The library, formally named the Bay Minette Public Library, charged a $1 per year user
fee, payable in advance. Patrons also had the option of paying 50 cents for six-month
periods. Books were checked out for seven-day periods with fines for overdue books
being set at 3 cents per day. The library committee established a “pay shelf” of the
newest fiction, charging 10 cents per week until the books’ prices were met. The book
was then retired to the regular sections. The committee establishing these policies
included: Mrs. Gilmer, Mrs. Matthews, Mrs. Beebe, Mrs. Mac Donald, Mrs. McLeod and
Miss Sibley.

Two years later, the library moved into a rented room on Courthouse Square in the
Stapleton building at the approximate site of what was later Chancellor’s Grocery. The
rental for the next six years, totally $2,160, was collected from interested patrons with
donations ranging from 10 cents to $1 per month. In addition, during this six-year period,
$1,874.78 was raised by the library board to purchase books, equipment and mending
materials, and for other expenses.

During these years, the use of the library by the public increased with its material
progress and in 1925 the library was standing so firmly on its own feet that the Women’s
Civic Improvement Association resigned all control of the library to the board then in
charge. In accordance with a state code for the establishment of a public library in
Alabama, a five-member board of directors has continued to conduct the affairs of the

In January of 1923, the possibility of the downstairs club room of the Masonic Lodge –
formerly the Baldwin County Bank – was discussed as a permanent site for the library.
On a Wednesday evening, May 15, 1929, a special session of the City Council accepted
plans and specifications presented by city architect R. L. Williamson. Hampton D.
Ewing, brother-in-law to Mrs. Gilmer, proposed that a building – to be used for the
library, an office for the chief of police and as a town hall – be built on land he was
willing to donate through the Bay Minette Land Company, if construction of the building
were to take place.

A petition was drawn up calling for construction of a public library building and was
signed by practically every man and woman in Bay Minette. According to the August 1,
1929 issue of the Baldwin Times newspaper, Mayor E.A. Moore and the Bay Minette
City Council appointed a library committee comprised of J.B. Blackburn, E.D. Noonan
and J.C. Burns to examine titles and other preliminary matters pertaining to the projected
public library.

The May 15, 1930 issue stated that City Council members had approved the plans drawn
up by a Mr. Clark of Owen & Clark Architects in Mobile. The plan called for a one-story
colonial valued at $7,000. This building design included two library rooms, a council
hall, a work room and a small cellar to accommodate the heating plant. The June 26th
issue state that Lamar Eubanks had been awarded the contract for laying the foundation
and was in the process of doing so with an anticipated completion date of 60 days.

Bay Minette’s council financed the building and was deeded the lot and building with the
understanding that “in the event of the failure of the library association and of any
corporation which may be organized for library purposes and which shall have taken over
the property of said association to continue as a public library, then the entire use and
occupancy of said building shall pass to the town of Bay Minette forever to be used
exclusively, however, and as a condition of this grant, for municipal purposes only.”

The City Council serving with Mayor J.S. Burns in December 1930 – when the formal
opening of the Hampton D. Ewing Library occurred – was made up of E. D. Noonan, J.B.
Blackburn, S. J. Whitley, M.M. McMillan and H.H. Mixon. Natalie Whitley was the city
clerk at that time. Hampton D. Ewing, by giving the land and other contributions, was
instrumental in securing the library building and for that reason the building was named
for him.

With the coming depression, when many libraries were forced by lack of funds to go on
subscription basis, the Bay Minette library was made free and that resulted in a
tremendous increase in its use. Twelve hundred books were borrowed during the first
month, but with the increased use of the volumes and almost nil funds, it was a desperate
struggle for Mrs. Gilmer and her helpers to keep things going. In spite of their best efforts
and help from others, the books became shabby and the service entirely inadequate. In the
early 1930s, the board accepted the offer of a Works Progress Administration (WPA)
project which meant increased service furnished to the public, the library opened every
day, and competent book mending. At the same time, the Public Library Service Division
of the Department of Archives and History matched dollar for dollar what the library
spent on books and also helped with the advice of a visiting librarian.
With the closing of the WPA, the library was again faced with the problem of
maintaining adequate service for the increased needs of the public. Bay Minette had
almost doubled in size since the library’s beginnings and it was impossible for volunteer
service to function adequately as before. Feeling that the library had become a vital part
of the community’s lives and a material asset to the town, the board appealed to the
council for help, and in response the council appropriated funds for the salary of a
competent library worker. Money for purchase of books and expenses was obtained from
gifts and an annual book sale which netted several hundred dollars.

Mrs. Gilmer served as the first librarian from its inception until Mrs. Pearlie Overstreet
took the position on October 4, 1943. Mrs. Overstreet served as a full-time librarian until
her health caused her to drop back to part-time in 1983. Rose Beveridge Smith received
her first paycheck as librarian in September 1973. The two ladies worked together until
1985 when Mrs. Overstreet’s declining health forced her into retirement.

The library was directed and lovingly managed by Rose Smith up until her retirement in
1994. She retired to enjoy time off with her family, leaving some very large shoes to fill.
At the time of her retirement, she had an excellent staff made up of Faye Martin, Becky
Bryars, Karen Mosely and Charlotte Jones Robertson. Mrs. Mosely was named interim
director and served in that post for six months until Mrs. Robertson was named director
of library services in October 1994. Mrs. Robertson served as director of the Bay Minette
Public Library for nine years, from October 1994 through October 2003.

Joanna Moseley Bailey was named director in January of 2004.

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