Even the most creative visions of the founders of Mississippi College could not have pictured the resources provided by the current College library. The Leland Speed Library almost certainly contains more books than were found in the entire state of Mississippi in 1826. Hampstead Academy (changed to Mississippi Academy in 1827 and Mississippi College in 1830) had to struggle to get a classroom building partly finished and usable by January of 1827. If there was a library at all in the earliest days, it would have consisted of the faculty's personal books, and perhaps a reference bookshelf in one or more classrooms. There is no full record of the progress from bare beginnings to relative abundance, but a few glimpses may help.
We remember, of course, that big, sophisticated libraries are a recent development. For instance, the prestigious University of Virginia began offering classes just two years before Mississippi College did. In ex-President Thomas Jefferson's magnificent design for the university, the focal point was the Rotunda, the upper floor of which was a large assembly room. Around the periphery of this room are several pairs of columns and, discreetly out of sight behind these columns, are bookcases which housed the entire collection of the University for many years.
Folks in the frontier village of Mt. Salus, Mississippi, certainly had nothing resembling the vast resources poured into Mr. Jefferson's Academical Village in Virginia, but they intended for their brave little college to be a good one, and a library was a significant component. In 1837 the Board of Trustees appointed a special Library Committee to assemble a library and science laboratory equipment. Unfortunately, the committee probably accomplished little because of the financial panic that devastated the country about that time. In 1844 a committee negotiated with the local Masonic Lodge about a classroom to be shared by the College library and the Lodge. And later that same year President Campbell reported the gift of over 100 books to the library.
Mississippi Baptists accepted the school in 1850 but did not offer a college degree program until 1852. At that time the Trustees asked a Doctor McClay "to serve as Agent to procure a Library for the College." They also asked him on what terms his own library could be obtained for the use of the college. Again, results are unknown.
At least two events from that first decade of Baptist operation, though, suggest that the library, although modest in size, was taken seriously. In February of 1854 a legislative act required the Governor of Mississippi, upon request, to deliver to the librarian of Mississippi College certain legal documents, including court records, legislative acts "and any other books and maps which are now or hereafter may be published by the authority of the state."
Then, in January of 1860, the Trustees adopted a resolution of thanks to United States Senator Jefferson Davis and submitted it for publication in the Mississippi Baptist:
"Whereas Gen. Jefferson Davis, United States senator has recently, in addition to former favors to Mississippi College, directed the Secretary of the Department of the Interior to forward ninety eight volumes of congressional documents and other publications to the library of Mississippi College, therefore
Resolved that the Trustees heartily unite in tendering thanks to Gen. J. Davis for these favors, who by his achievements in the field and in the Senate reflects so much honor on our State and on the United States."
The question arises, naturally, as to whether the Library still has any publications from those old gifts. And, who knows? An informal search through the Treasure Room of the Library's oldest books reveals various volumes old enough to have been part of those gifts, although most of them probably were gifts from people's personal libraries. A few, though, make you wonder. For instance, a copy of the Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, vol. II, 1796-1803 was published in 1856; a copy of Blackstone's Commentary on the Laws of England was published in 1822; and there is aDigest of the Laws of Mississippi: Acts of the Session of 1839. Nothing shows that these were from the gifts mentioned above. Still, for the sentimental among us, they are enough to evoke a glow of nostalgia.
The Civil War wiped out college classes, although the Preparatory Department continued to operate, and college students were back in classes by 1867. The first catalog published after the war (1869-70) declared that the "extensive Apparatus, Libraries, and other Appliances, formerly belonging to the College, were all preserved." It announced plans to establish a Reading Room, which the next catalog reported to be in full operation. The 1879-80 catalog reported an apparent up-grade in the reading room. "A Reading Room Association has recently been organized, a room in one of the College buildings neatly fitted up, and the following list of publications may be found upon its tables. Periodicals from our own State are generously contributed by their publishers." Then comes a listing, by name, of 22 newspapers from within the state; 14 papers from outside the state (including New York and Boston); 17 magazines (including Baptist Review, Atlantic Monthly, Southern Law Review, Harper's, etc.).
For more than three decades the college catalog proudly directed attention to the libraries of the student literary societies. The Philomathean Literary Society was established in 1846, stopped functioning in 1862 because of the war, and was reorganized in 1870. The Hermenian Literary Society was organized in 1854; theoretically, it continued through the war years, although it probably functioned little while the college classes were interrupted by the war. The 1870-71 catalog said both literary societies were "in a flourishing condition" and added, "They each possess a Library accessible to their members." The location of these collections may have changed from time to time, but in later years they used the two small rooms on opposite sides of the stage in the Chapel building. In the afternoons after classes student volunteers from the two societies would open their libraries for student use, generally for an hour. The catalog urged alumni of the societies to contribute books to build the collections.
An 1872 publication of "An Extract from the Constitution and By-Laws of the Ministerial Students Library Association" reveals a somewhat different student initiative in library services. It appears to have been something like a combination of a non-profit bookstore and lending library for ministerial students.
While the College depended heavily on the library collection of the student organizations, the institution itself continued to provide library service and to work for its support. For eighteen years, 1873-1890 and again in 1895, the faculty listing in the catalog included someone with the title of Librarian. This was a part-time position, since everybody on the small faculty in those days had multiple duties. In the first four years listed, the Librarian was actually a student worker. The rest of the time the Librarian was also the Principal of the Preparatory Department (6 years), the Professor of Mathematics (4 years), the Professor of English (3 years), or the Professor of Latin (1 year). It is unlikely that the established function of faculty Librarian would have been dropped for a few years at a time; this assignment simply was not always published in the catalog.
Presumably, the Reading Room and special collections, such as government documents, would have been the responsibility of the faculty Librarian. Library resources may have been regarded in much the same way was as were laboratory materials in the sciences, and one may guess that some professors had custody of special collections in their subject fields. In 1874 the college agreed to "Sell Prof. Whitfield a set of Geological & other Surveys, now in the college library at $20."
That same year, as a part of the continuing effort to channel scarce funds into library support, a $20 Incidental Fee was established for all students, with "one twentieth of this Incidental Fee set apart for the purpose of increasing the Library." This bounty was short-lived, however, as the Incidental Fee was dropped for most students after two years.
In 1889 the President's Report invited visitors to "step into the hallway back of the chapel & see the renovation that has taken place there, not forgetting to enter the elegant library rooms of the two Literary Societies, where you will find larger and better libraries than are possessed by any similar societies in the land." The faculty may have shared the President's enthusiasm for the student libraries, but five years later they reported several urgent needs "including library rooms."
In 1906 the Philomathean and Hermenian literary societies decided to combine their libraries and asked Mrs. A. J. Aven to become librarian and keep the library open for two hours each afternoon. The next year the societies formally donated their combined library to the college with the understanding that the college would maintain and enlarge it and employ the librarian. Mrs. Aven was then elected, on a part-time salary at first, and served as college librarian from 1907 to 1921.
A common perception has been that the Mississippi College library began with the merger of the two literary society collections, and that is partly true. From the information above it is obvious that the institution had provided a variety of library services through the years, but the student organizations richly deserve the credit given them for making their library resources available to students during several decades of stark scarcity. And, with their gift, and the merger of all separate collections, the college had for the first time a unified institutional library under the care of a professional librarian.
The merger of Hillman College into Mississippi College in 1942 (made final in 1946) brought with it the Hillman library of 2,250 volumes. The development of the Learning Resources Center in the 1970's brought significant expansion into multi-media fields. The library also contains the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission collection, a separate collection but available for research. With the opening of the Law School in 1975 came another special-purpose library, housed on the Law School compus in downtown Jackson.
In 1915 the college proudly dedicated its first building specifically for the library, Lowrey Hall, which included classrooms and offices, but whose main focus was the generous space for the 5,000 volumes of the library collection. In 1947, with the collection at 35,000 volumes and college enrollment ballooning with returning war veterans, an annex was added to the library building. Then, in 1959, the Leland Speed Library building was dedicated and the 60,000 volume collection moved in. Again, though, the library soon outgrew its space, and in 1975 an annex was completed to provide room for the collection, then 150,000 volumes, and especially for the new electronic Learning Resources Center.
Now, the Leland Speed Library has over 249,846 volumes, subscribes to 648 print periodical titles, and provides access to over 25,484 full text journals through electronic databases. These databases are accessible by computer through the internet both on and off campus. The library offers access to a variety of full-text and bibliographic databases covering all disciplines of study. The Learning Resources Center is also accessible through the online catalog, and its collection includes over 21,592 items. The LRC media collection consist of video tapes, films, music scores and recordings, slides and audio tapes. It also includes a fully equipped television production studio and dark room, carrels and viewing rooms.
Can you imagine trying to explain all that to the folks who founded the place in 1826? But they did make it clear that they wanted a library worthy of the pride of Mississippi College.
Library Directors, 1907 to the present:
1907-1921 Mary B. Aven
1921-1939 Margaret Bennett
1940-1946 Rosa D. Quisenberry
1947-1949 Annabelle Koonce
1950-1959 Claudia S. Landrum
1960-1991 J. B. Howell
1992-2006 David Wright
2006-2019 Kathleen Hutchison