We were recently back in the USA and had an absolutely fabulous time traveling across four states. Great food, hospitality, shed loads of culture and history, consistently warm weather – the Deep South has a lot going for it in my view! We didn’t do too much tourist stuff but here a few cultural highlights from Jackson, Mississippi. Foodie highlights coming in another post.
I hadn’t planned on visiting any libraries, but two serendipitously appeared on our programme. And by programme, I mean laid-back mooching around Jackson during the second week of the trip. My dad took us around Jackson State University, a historically African American university where he lectures and we got a tour of their recently refurbished library. The ground floor was revamped to be what would be termed a ‘learning/information commons’ here. They’ve dubbed the space ‘digital intellectual commons’ and it was primarily flexible study areas and zero book stacks (those are upstairs), and also a makerspace and an A/V recording area. Since it was summer it was quiet, but apparently it’s a buzzy atmosphere in term time. I loved all the colourful furniture and though I prefer a quiet study space, it would be great for group work. (Sorry for my poor quality phone photos!)
My sister took us to visit the Carroll Gartin Justice building which houses the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Law Library. The building is a stunning, grandiose neo-Classical behemoth completed in 2006 (for better pictures click here). We took a peek in the beautiful courtrooms (I pretended I was in Law & Order) and we were given a tour of the State Law Library by the Librarian Stephen Parks. He defied all librarian stereotypes by being young, male and super friendly. The library is old school…I’m talking wooden desks, light gently filtering through big windows, brass sconces, and beautifully bound law books everywhere. The library serves all the State Courts, law school students and the general public. Stephen pointed out a framed photograph of a Victorian looking lady and said this was Helen D. Bell, the first female state librarian and, if I remember correctly, the first female state employee. The policy in the 1800s was that a man would be elected law librarian and then appoint a woman to actually do the job – until 1896 when Bell was elected in her own name. Way to go 19th century Mississippi feminists!
Another highlight was meeting Mr. Elbert Hilliard, living legend and director emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) where my sister works. I saw his signature on many a document when I was volunteering in the MDAH Collections department. And also I have to mention the wonderful Elizabeth Coleman, MDAH volunteers coordinator, and the reason for our visit that day who apparently has some aristocratic relations in the UK! I would love to stay in the family castle sometime, Elizabeth. Just saying.
We also got an aerial view of the two new museums that MDAH are currently building, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, opening in 2017 to celebrate the bicentennial of Mississippi’s statehood. Exciting times! I can’t wait to visit when they’re open!