Local library has served the county since 1931

Posted 4/13/18

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” -Charles William Eliot In an era when the general …

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Local library has served the county since 1931


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

-Charles William Eliot

In an era when the general public is skeptical of the people and processes of government, Wall Street, the media and their own Facebook news feeds, one institution remains above reproach — public libraries.

Last year, the Pew Research Center announced that 78 percent of people surveyed about their libraries said that they found trustworthy, reliable information there.

In the same survey, 66 percent of respondents said that closing their local library would  have a major impact on their community as a whole. 

In this county, the Carl Elliott Regional Library System serves voracious readers, movie lovers, genealogical researchers, individuals who need Internet access, groups in search of a meeting space, kids looking for a way to fill the long days of summer and others who just want a space where they can retreat from the world for a few minutes. 

This week, the Jasper Public Library hosted several events in recognition of National Library Week.

The library also has quite a few historical artifacts on display, including a library card renewal application signed by former Congressman Carl Elliott late in his life.

When Elliott co-sponsored the Library Services Act of 1956, 26 million rural residents had no access to a public library and an additional 50 million were served by libraries that were deemed inadequate, according to a history of the legislation written by James W. Fry in 1975. 

Between 1956 and 1961, rural residents had access to more than five million new books and other materials and were served by 200 new bookmobiles thanks to the Library Services Act. 

The regional library system, which was formed in 1958, is named for Elliott because of the vital contribution he made to libraries throughout the nation.

However, another man is responsible for establishing Walker County's library nearly 90 years ago.

In 1934, Willie Calkins wrote a short history of the Walker County Library while a student at the University of Alabama.

According to Calkins, James Alexander Moore, the founder of the Walker County Library, served as principal of Walker County High School before becoming the county's superintendent of education in July 1920.

As superintendent, he established a library in his office and stocked it with books purchased with county and state funds. 

Moore also encouraged local women's clubs in their work to create a small library, an effort that began in 1928. 

The Jasper Thursday Study Club opened a library in March 1928 in a space donated to the group by the Palmer-McCutcheon Furniture Company. The library consisted of approximately 150 books in its beginning. The collection had grown to nearly 1,000 books by the time that the county's first library opened several years later.

In 1930, Moore secured a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to establish the Walker County Library. 

The Rosenwald Fund awarded a total of $36,500 over five years to the library, which opened in 1931 in the former home of John Bankhead Sr. 

A branch for African American patrons opened that same year at the Walker County Training School.

Providing services to African Americans was a key requirement of the grant. In a letter written in January 1930, Moore gave his assurance that the library would serve black, white, rural and urban patrons.

Several years later, the library moved to a new location downtown. That building was destroyed in the April 1974 tornado.

The library opened in its current location in 1976.

Under directer Sandra Underwood, the regional library system as a whole and Jasper Public Library in particular have undergone numerous upgrades in the past decade.

The library system got its first website, www.youseemore.com/cerl, in 2008 and officially retired its paper catalog one year later. 

Patrons now have their choice of a variety of formats for books. I am a big fan of the Libby app, which allows me to download e-books to my phone from home and gives me access to titles that are not yet part of my local library's physical collection.

The library also has a growing DVD collection that includes new movies and TV series as well as old favorites.

Throughout the year, the library hosts events that appeal to all ages. To keep up with all of the happenings at the library, check out their Facebook page, Carl Elliott Regional Library - Jasper Public Library.

If you are curious about which bestsellers have been added to the shelves lately, check out the Lifestyles section on the first Sunday of each month.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.