October 19, 2013 10:31:17 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
When Columbus-Lowndes Public Library director Erin Stringer travels in Mississippi library circles, it's not unusual for her to hear something like: "Oh, Columbus -- that's the one that has the pretty building."
Gracious and fitting for the historic downtown area it is part of, the library's Chebie G. Bateman Building at 314 Seventh St. N. has turned 40, and its friends and admirers want to throw a party. The community is urged to join the celebration Monday, Oct. 21, at a public reception from 4-6 p.m.
"The Friends of the Library wanted to do something to recognize this jewel in the landscape of Columbus," said Friends president Jo Shumake.
Brief look back
The white-columned, brick structure of today is a testament to the late crusader whose name it bears. Chebie Bateman became library director in 1961 and oversaw the library's growth -- from humble beginnings in a house (now demolished) behind St. Paul's Episcopal Church, to the S.D. Lee High School band hall located behind the current facility. Her vision and commitment then helped achieve a remarkable expansion, to the spacious building that serves the community today.
In an article in The Commercial Dispatch upon Bateman's death at age 83 in December 2010, George Hazard Jr., Bateman's cousin, said, "Building the new library called on all Chebie's skills. Two bond issues failed, but Chebie said, 'This is what I was put here to do' and kept pushing. She and the civic and governmental leaders, along with the Appalachian Regional Commission, finally got it done."
On Dec. 10, 1970, with pledges from four Columbus families (Henry Beneke, Birney Imes, C. Lionel Mitchell and Mark Weitzenhoffer), the City Council issued bonds of $200,000. In conjunction with additional funding from other sources, ground was broken on Jan. 20, 1972, for construction of the new building.
Gaines Bateman Gaskin of Columbus, Chebie Bateman's daughter, still remembers frequenting the "band hall" library when she was growing up. She also remembers her mother's tenacity in lobbying for a structure that would reflect the historic beauty of its hometown, when some would have opted for a more modern look.
"She fought so hard for the library and to build something that would complement the architecture of the community," Gaskin recalled. Few could have been more proud, relieved and fulfilled than Chebie Bateman when the building was dedicated on May 6, 1973.
Forty years ago, there were no computers at the Columbus library. Now there are 23 for public access in the main branch alone. There are also branches in Artesia, Caledonia and New Hope.
A children's area, teen center, autism resource center, computer classes, Lowndes County Law Library, the Billups-Garth Archives and local history and genealogy department are just a few of the many features in today's Bateman Building. Books on CD, MP3s, DVDs and more than 500 e-books are available there, too. And as part of the Mississippi Library Partnership, the library offers patrons access to more than 3.1 million titles.
Monday's reception honors more than just the 40th anniversary of this civic centerpiece. This is the public's library, and that's worth celebrating every day.
"We want people to realize that there is so much available for them here," Stringer emphasized.
Shumake added, "It's such a wonderful resource, and it's there for everyone. It's important to cherish our library, to not take it for granted or just assume that it will always be there ... "
One way to help ensure that it will is to join the Friends of the Library. Memberships are $12, or $24 for a family. Funds assist in purchasing books, DVDs and other resources such as World Book online, and help pay for librarians' training, among other projects.
Another way is to walk through the library's doors Monday, enjoy the cake, the books, the people -- and come back, again and again.
For more information, contact the library at 662-329-5300. Follow the library and the Friends on Facebook.
ON THE WEB:
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.