- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) - When Anita Batman was a child growing up on Adams Street in Greenwood during the 1940s and ‘50s, the local library opened up the whole world to her.

“I remember being a little kid, and we rode our bicycles across the bridge over to the library,” said Batman. “The children’s books were in the big room with the beautiful murals by Lalla Walker Lewis.”

Batman, now a retired physician, said the chief librarian at the time, Dorothy Hayes, had an impact on her as a child.

“She would bring the books to you like she was giving you a crown jewel, and she would put her arm around you and whisper like it was a wonderful secret, ‘Look what I’ve got for you. I knew you would love to read it first,’” said Batman. “And she was, because she gave me the world.”

Now, celebrating its 100th year, the Greenwood-Leflore Public Library continues to provide children a gateway to different experiences, adventure and knowledge through books, technology and programs.

The exact opening date of the library is not known, but Greenwood historians have found clues.

The Greenwood Commonwealth reported on Oct. 10, 1913, the contract was awarded to build the library. Local historian Donny Whitehead said the contract was awarded to Humphries and McGinnis of Greenwood.

The site of the old library, across the street from the current facility, was donated by Lizzie George Henderson, the youngest daughter of Sen. J.Z. George, and her husband, Dr. T.R. Henderson.

“She was the driving force to get funding for the library,” said local historian Mary Carol Miller.

Lizzie George Henderson applied for a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and received $10,000 for the library project. The Hendersons also directly donated to the construction of the library. The mayor and Board of Aldermen donated $2,500 annually toward the maintenance and the Woman’s Club raised $10,000 for an annex to the Carnegie Library, which is now the Confederate Memorial Building. Henderson was the president of the Woman’s Club.

The Commonwealth reported that on Nov. 14, 1913, ground was broken at the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Henderson Street. By March 1914, the construction for the library was reported to be “making good progress.”

The actual opening, however, is not recorded.

“We assume early fall of 1914,” said Whitehead, who is also the president of the library’s board of directors.

This assumption comes from a Works Progress Administration project in which local women in the 1930s put together a book of information about Greenwood and Leflore County. They recorded the library opened in the fall of 1914.

Henderson supplied the library’s original collection of books. The donation came from her father’s collection at the library at Cotesworth in North Carrollton.

“Lizzie George Henderson remained the library’s primary patron for the rest of her life,” said Miller.

In the 1950s, another wing was added to the library, tripling the building’s size.

A couple of decades later, there continued to be a need to increase the library’s size. In 1979, the new Greenwood-Leflore Public Library was opened.

Today, the library is under the leadership of Director Jenniffer Stephenson. The staff is composed of familiar and fresh faces, all enthusiastic about books, knowledge and sharing their passion with the community.

“We have been revitalizing an interest with the community, offering more programs and upgraded the technology,” said Stephenson.

The library features a large selection, for all ages, of nonfiction and fiction books, e-books, magazines, newspapers and several tables stocked with computers on both the first and second floors.

“It is an enhancement of the education systems and an enhancement to the quality of life for the community that we serve,” said Stephenson.

Throughout the day, the building is quietly bustling with people checking out books, studying or using the technology.

“We’re not just an archives or book depository,” said Stephenson. “We provide programs, technology and multiple services, such as help with computers. We’re trying to promote that and let the community know what all we can offer them, because it’s their library.”

In the summer, in addition to its children’s reading program, the library also hosted a book club and film series. It also offers a program for high-school students called the Teen Advisory Group.

The newly formed Friends of the Library, a nonprofit organization that holds library fundraisers and volunteers at many of its events, has also helped spur the outreach.

“The biggest thing is that the public library is free for all, from children to adults, from school to retirement,” said Stephenson. “There’s something for everybody at the public library.”

“The library was a hangout place and a place where you could grow up and have a wider world than the one on your street,” said Batman. “I see that which was so wonderful about the library of my childhood has come back with Jenniffer and rest of the staff. The whole place, it lives again.”

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Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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