Clergyman and Social Reformer
For almost four decades now Blackmur Memorial Library has served the people of Water Valley and Yalobusha County from its place way up on the hill on Blackmur Drive.
Maybe you spent time there at some point while in school, longer ago than you care to admit, pouring through encyclopedias. Or maybe you went through the shelves, book-by-book, soaking in whatever adventure, romance, murder mystery or western you could get your hands on. Or maybe you’re more familiar with the library as a place to get on-line and apply for a job or check your e-mail or even spend a little time keeping up with family and friends on Facebook.
The reasons people come to the library may change somewhat over the years, but the library is still there doing its best to meet the changing needs of its patrons and, hopefully, will have a rich future to match its rich past.
Before Blackmur Memorial Library came to be, it was the long-time home of W.E. and Nell Blackmur. After Mrs. Blackmur’s death, the house and property were deeded to the City of Water Valley for “educational purposes, including, but not limited to, the maintenance of a library thereon, the utilization of said property for cultural, literary and artistic advancement…”
At the time, Water Valley’s library was located on Main Street in one half of what is now the Chamber of Commerce building. Though it was small, it still served as a hub for downtoan and the community for many years before moving in 1979.
In fact, for more than 80 years, the people of Water Valley and the area have been served by a local public library.
In 1934, as part of the Works Progress Administration, the Water Valley Public Library was established. It was originally established as a “Central Station” for all public library in Yalobusha County.
Since then the library, which would eventually be renamed Blackmur Memorial Library, would come to stand on its own and is now a fully independent library – one of only two in the entire state of Mississippi. At times in its past the library has joined with the other libraries in the county – in Coffeeville and Oakland – as a part of the Yalobusha County Library System, but each time it eventually returned to independent status.
Blackmur Memorial Library is also unique in the way it operates. The land and the building are owned and maintained by the City of Water Valley. The bulk of the funds for the library’s operation come from Yalobusha County. Additional funding comes from grants, fines and fees and donations. The library is overseen by a Board of Trustees, members of which are appointed by the Water Valley Board of Aldermen.
Being located in the former Blackmur home makes the library one of the more unique institutions among Mississippi libraries. Rather than rework the home into a more typical library space, much of the “hominess” of a residence was left in place. For years people would walk up the sidewalk to what was then the front door of the library, past the goldfish pond. Entering the library, they would go from room to room – former bedrooms, kitchen, dining room – to find the book they were looking for.
Today, looking at the library from the street, it looks much as it always has. Looking at a photo of Blackmur Memorial Library in the program for the First Annual Watermelon Carnival, you might almost take it for a recent snapshot (save a little wear and tear over the years). But, as we headed into the twenty-first century, the library made some big changes.
As the community grew and changed, it became obvious the library needed to follow suit. An expansion and renovation project was undertaken and completed in early 2002. The library was rededicated in April of that year, 22 years to the month of the building’s official dedication.
In addition to doing some general updating and restoration of the original Blackmur home, a new open floor plan room was added to the back of the house. The new addition became the new entrance to the library. When visitors first enter the library, they walk into a large, high ceiling room. Before they even noticed the shelves of book there to greet them, they often look up to see the beautiful exposed wooden support beams. And there by the front desk, looking out as if to greet everyone who walks in, is a portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Blackmur.
Even today, 36 years later, walking through the library, you still get an intense feel of home. Dotted around the rooms are pieces of furniture owned by the Blackmurs. An ornate hutch contains a framed Blackmur family seal and another a family Bible. The bookshelves in the Mississippi Room are full of family history tomes collected by the Blackmurs over the years.
In fact, some even say Mrs. Blackmur may even pop back in from time to time to make sure things are going well in her former residence…
Former U.S. Surgeon General
Though the homey touches are carefully preserved, Blackmur Memorial Library still does its best to see that it serves the community as well as any modern library. In the past decade the library’s holdings have almost doubled, reaching almost 15,000 volumes – around 99 percent of which are available to be checked out by patrons. The Mississippi Room has research material available for anyone wanting to look into family history, the history of Water Valley or of Yalobusha County.
The Garden Room is a reading room stocked with a table and chairs for those who might want to take a break and read any of the numerous magazines available. It also houses the Garden Information Center sponsored by the Water Valley Town & Country Garden Club. Books ranging from decorating to gardening to flower arranging have been donated by the club to stock the shelves.
If patrons want something a little more high tech than ink and paper, then the library also offers computers and Internet access. Last year the library installed a new on-line cataloging and circulation system which already gives patrons access to the card catalog on-line and on the library’s computers and will, in the near future, allow patrons to log into their own account and take actions like reserving and renewing books.
While the trappings might change the mission of the library hasn’t changed. Whether it’s a small town institution like Blackmur Memorial Library or a sprawling big city library with hundreds of branches, libraries still serve as a place where the public can go and access information, research, study or be entertained.
As public library services closes in on the century mark in Water Valley, Blackmur Memorial Library will continue to do its best to try and meet the needs of its patrons.
Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.