In January of 1818, the initial session of Mississippi's Legislature granted the first library charter in the state of Mississippi the "Mississippi Literary and Library Company of Gibson Port." The charter still exists, but, unfortunately, little else is known about this endeavor.
There was an announcement in 1858 that the "Mississippi Library Association will soon be revived under the most favorable auspices, after an interval of some 15 years. . ." It is assumed that the company's operations were terminated by the War Between the States.
In 1901, the Woman's Book Club was organized which circulated books among its members. Then, in 1914, Miss Harriette Person returned to Port Gibson after spending the summer in Chautaugua, New York. During her stay, Miss Person conferred with the head of the Chautaugua Library School. She was advised to form a subscription library with dues of $1.00 per year. The Library was to be under the direction of a board of trustees and would look forward to a time that municipal and county aid could be secured so it could become a free public library.
The Library Association was organized under the auspices of the Pathfinder Chapter of the D. A. R. The library was to give equal service to the town and county and all work was to be volunteer. Dues would be used exclusively for books and Mr. J. Martin Magruder, Chancery Clerk, offered space in his office for the library, thus becoming the first librarian.
The library opened with 230 books and seven periodicals. The library was open from nine to five every day but Sunday. Books could be drawn one at a time and held two weeks by town members and three weeks by county members. Fines were set at two cents a day, to be levied at the discretion of the Librarian.
In 1916, the library was moved to a large upstairs room in the Person Building that occupied the lot that is now the Port Gibson Bank parking lot. The Person family allowed the Library to occupy the room rent-free. Miss Harriette Person succeeded Mr. Magruder as librarian.
Finally, in 1927, the Library started to receive $300 annually from Claiborne County and in 1928 the City of Port Gibson was allowed by the State legislature to appropriate a similar sum. The Library was at last able to go from a subscription library to become the Port Gibson - Claiborne County Public Library.
1n 1934, the Library moved to the second floor of the Irwin Russell Memorial Building, formerly one of the buildings of the Port Gibson Female College. At this time it was decided to start paying the Librarian the sum of $25 per month. However, in the "Hard Times" of the Depression, the Librarian's salary was cut to $2.00 per month and that sum had to be used to provide fuel for the Library.
Miss Harriette Person served the library for twenty-one years, until her death in 1937. She was then succeeded by her sister Frances Walker Person. It was at this time that the library was renamed the Harriette Person Memorial Library.
Frances Walker Person died in 1948 and was replaced by Margaret Guthrie who had been serving as Assistant Librarian since 1934. In 1949, the library moved to the first floor of the Russell Building and the books were reorganized with the assistance of the Mississippi Library Commission.
Miss Guthrie retired in 1976 and was succeeded by Mrs. Nancy Butler. In 1991, the library moved to temporary quarters on College Street when the Russell Building was closed for renovations.
In 1991, the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors purchased a historic building in the Main Street district of Port Gibson. Belinda Stewart Architects and the Galler Construction Company were chosen to renovate the building as the home of the new Harriette Person Memorial Library.
When the Library was first organized, Miss Harriette Person stated that her aim was to establish "a little library, growing with the years and finding an honorable place in the town's history." The Harriette Person Library's move into its new building is yet another step toward this goal.
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