History of the Friends of the Library
During the years from 1951 - 1955, there was no public library service in Collierville. The absence of books in the hands of citizens motivated a group of ladies into action. The Collierville Contemporary Club votes unanimously to address this situation by contacting the town fathers and other civic clubs, proposing a plan for a "volunteer" library. The Shelby County Commission gave a boost to this goal by "giving new life to the Shelby County Library System."
This group of ladies formed the first Friends of the Library. President Mrs. C. H. (Hopsie) Harrell immediately formed a committee composed of Mrs. O. C. (Thelma) Dean, Mrs. M. K. (Alice) Mann, Sr., and Mrs. Karr (Catharine) Hinton who contacted Turner Clark, Director of County libraries. The Town agreed to provide a building and utilities. The club members then put their husbands to work building shelves, installing lighting, painting, and moving furniture, preparing to accept books provided by the county.
A small, rectangular building covered with white stucco located at the corner of Walnut and North Rowlett was selected. A hamburger joint had occupied it previously, and the smell of onions and frying hamburgers remained even after the library opened. It was reported that the smell often gave readers a hunger attack.
Soon 2500 - 3000 volumes purchased by the Memphis Public Libraries filled the shelves and the doors opened on March 5, 1956. The first librarian was Mrs. James (Sue) Cowan who was a member of the Contemporary Club and former teacher. The library was open two days a week, Mondays from 2:00 - 6:00 and Fridays from 2:00 - 9:00. During the first 10 months, 7933 books were issued.
A total of 7,933 books were issued in the first ten months of operation. The library became a meeting place for students walking home from school just north on Walnut. On Wednesday morning, there was a story hour for preschool children living in Collierville and the surrounding area. There was no special room for this, but the children gathered on the floor to listen. Librarian Sue Cowan told them stories using a treasure chest full of cutout figures to represent the storybook characters. Many people used the library who didn't live in our town. They came from north Mississippi, Fayette County, Fisherville, Eads, and Forest Hill.
Within a short period of time, conversations were taking place about enlarging the building and expanding the collection. Of course, money was a major consideration, but where there is a will there is a way. In 1964, the Shelby County Court and Shelby County Commissioners made the decision to increase money for the operation of the library. Larry Bone, then Director of Shelby County Libraries, was diligent in making improvements in the operation of our Library. Hours were increased from 3 days a week to 6 days a week, the collection was increased encouraging the upward movement in circulation. In 1965, the number of books issued in a 10 month period increased to 22,236.
The photo is of the first library building. The two ladies in the photo are Thelma Dean (Ruth Ann Babin's great aunt) and Sue Cowan.
Children attending Pre-School Story Hour and Sue Cowan in the mid to late 1960s.
The opening of the "New Library" occurred on December 5, 1965. The library shared the corner with a new police station and court room. In the same building with the Library was a community room and with a small kitchen. The room was used often for both civic and private functions.
Built with brick, not stucco, the carpeted library contained a work room, break area for staff, a large area for circulation, and a new card catalogue in the middle of the room. There were now 12,000 volumes with a capacity for 8,000 more. One of the favorite features of the building were the large windows that looked out on the train tracks. The whole building shook as the trains went by.