When we moved here twelve years ago, the nearest public library was in adjoining Forrest County in downtown Hattiesburg. Using it required a fifty dollar annual fee and a twenty minute trip one way through crazy college town traffic. Ten years ago, Lamar County opened a neighborhood branch, the Oak Grove Public Library, free to all and seven minutes of rural driving away.
Our branch would win few prizes for size, but it is unrivaled in friendliness and helpfulness. Whatever the staff members don’t have on the shelves, they borrow for you in a few days and give you a call or email when it comes in.
I could tell you stories of ways they have served, but I will stick to one. I was never more grateful for their proximity and support than in the days following Katrina. With a manuscript deadline of September 1 and the August 28 weather forecast showing the storm bearing down on us, I notified my editor that I might be a tad late. I needed one last proofread and expected to be without power for a few days. I was partly right. Our electricity was out by 11 AM on the 29th. Restoration came thirteen days and six hours later.
The library had electricity restored within the week. The staff reserved a table for me and my laptop. I enjoyed their space (and their air-conditioning) and emailed the manuscript from the library long before I had electricity at home. Although a hurricane is a fair excuse for a late manuscript, I hope this remains my only experience with both.
Evidently many people share my love of our library. The parking lot is well-filled every time I pass. The first full year (2004) the library had 28,830 patron visits; 4,208 reference requests; and 51,691 materials checked out. This year with two months left on the calendar, they have had 84,126 patron visits; 18,066 reference requests; and 104,722 materials checked out. You can add five more on my list to be checked out this morning.
Talk at the birthday party included the wisdom of the original planners to put the library on one edge of the lot, leaving room for the anticipated addition coming soon.
A very happy birthday to us – and many more!