Celebrating 100 years of service: 1915 - 2015

In 1915, the Woman's Club of Fitzgerald secured a Carnegie grant for the construction of a building. The land was donated. Books for the library were gathered through donations and fundraisers. One such fundraiser had 150 people contribute food and 100 persons bought a ticket for $1.00 each. The library formally opened on March 1, 1915, with Miss Louise Smith as the first librarian. The library contained twenty shelves of adult books and fifteen shelves of children's books and in Miss Louise's own words, "not any of these shelves were anything like well-filled." By the end of 1915, there were less than two thousand books in the collection and circulation was almost five thousand. The library originally contained a lounge area with cribs and easy chairs so that country women could relax with their children while the men could attend to their business. The services was not used as much as anticipated, and as the collection grew, the room was turned into a magazine room.

In 1918, library service was extended to the county. Boxes of books were sent to each of the county schools by patrons who lived in the area, but as this proved unsatisfactory, arrangements were made to send books parcel post. Miss Louise Smith worked along for many years. From 1926 to 1933, the city hired Mrs. H.A. Mathis as her assistant, but when Mrs. Mathis left, Miss Louise agreed to work without help so that the money could be used to buy new books. In November of 1934, Miss Pauline Ennis volunteered to help in the library, and worked almost a year without salary. In 1934, the FERA project provided for two part-time desk assistants, of which Miss Ennis was one. Bookmobile service did not begin until 1944 when a WPA project made possible the joint purchase of a bookmobile by Irwin and Ben Hill Counties. After several years, Irwin County discontinued its service. The American Legion bought the vehicle and presented it to the Fitzgerald Library so that county service could continue.

In 1951, a new bookmobile, an International panel truck was purchased. In 1949, a new wing, known as the Haile Memorial Addition, was opened up as the children's room. The land was donated by Mr. Clark Luke in memory of his wife. Other gifts included a churching desk, picture tables and books, bulletin board and fire logs for the fireplace, while the Woman's Club purchased new furniture for the reading room. The Children's Room was decorated with murals depicting popular characters in children's books, such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit and others. The murals were painted by Mrs. Elmer Archer as a gift to the children. (This tradition of artwork for the young readers continues to this day. The current Children's Room has Humpty Dumpty, Hansel and Gretel, Winnie the Pooh and others, provided by Arts Council members David Malcom, Joanne Minix and Margaret Chasteen.)

In 1951, a new bookmobile, an International panel truck was purchased. In 1958, Miss Louise Smith retired and Miss Pauline Ennis took her place, serving from 1958 to 1974.

In 1969, Miss Ennis reported that services were provided to classroom libraries and an annual Vacation Reading Club had nearly 400 children participating. Books were available for loan from other libraries through the service provided by the Georgia State Department of Education. Miss Ennis reported that 1968 closed with a record 41,869 volumes circulated.

In 1983, a new library building was built across from the Post Office on North Main Street. A book brigade, similar to the old firefighter's fire brigade, passed the books from the Carnegie to the new building. The human chain stretched over three blocks in the passing of the tens of thousands of books. In 1983, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Grim and Mr. and Mrs. L.T. Roberts made significant donations to the library for the purpose of establishing an endowment. The major focus of these donations was to fund a symposium in memory of Mrs. Grim's parents. The Alvin G. and Lydia Todd Brown Symposium have brought such noted authors as Erskine Caldwell, Stuart Woods, Margaret Anne Barnes, Tina Ansa McElroy and Amy Blackmarr as well as children's authors such as Carmen Deedy to rural Georgia. Additional Foundation information is available on the Foundation page.

Computers and Internet access began changing the face of library service in the late 1980s and continue to have significant impact to this day. As a member of PINES, the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Library users have a nearly state-wide library card and can borrow books from around the state and around the world. Additional photos available online at the Digital Library of Georgia - http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/ The Digital Library of Georgia is a gateway to Georgia's history and culture found in digitized books, manuscripts, photographs, government documents, newspapers, maps, audio, video, and other resources. After many years, the building was renovated and is now the Carnegie Center for the Arts, home to the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Arts Council. The Center also serves as a performance space and a museum and arts display gallery for the community. Additional information on the Carnegie can be found in the vertical file at the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Library.