Best-selling author John Grisham once said that “the caliber and the character of a town or community is known by the library that it has built in its midst.”
Grisham, who has written over 40 books that have sold 300 million copies worldwide, grew up in Southaven and developed his love of reading at the local library.
“An impressionable John Grisham likely checked out books from the shelves at the ‘Little Green Library,’” said DeSoto County Museum Curator Robert Long. “You can just see a young John Grisham propped up reading a book in our library system.”
Southaven paid tribute this week to its library, which celebrated 60 years of service. Long, who spoke about the history of the library during an open house at the M. R. Davis Library on Wednesday, said the library’’s origins go all the way back to the city’s founding before Southaven was even incorporated as a city.
“The M.R. Davis Public Library and the City of Southaven have really grown up together, you might say,” Long said.
The first library was set up in December 1962 in a small room in the fire station on Whitworth Street off Highway 51 when the city had only 300 residents. The library would move several times over the next decade going from the basement of Thornton’s Donut Shop, to the Alodex Building, where the current City Hall is today, and then to a 2,400 square foot building on Brookhaven Drive next to the Jaycee Building.
When the library outgrew that space, citizens, businesses, and civic organizations raised money to build a new 10,000 square foot library on Northwest Drive which opened in 1979 and was named after Maude Rasco Davis in honor of her work in the community. Davis died in 1993 at age 102.
“Maude Rasco Davis was very instrumental in community affairs and helped to bring the very first bookmobile to DeSoto County,” Long said.
The city built the current facility next to Jim Saucier Memorial Park in 2008. Long said today the Southaven branch is one of the largest in the First Regional Library system and is a testament to the city’s ongoing commitment to literacy.
“The library is one of Mississippi’s most handsome libraries, its glass windows looking out across a peaceful pond,” Long said. “I think it is telling that you are known by the library that you have in your community and that you regard that as an important place of learning and gathering, and that the library continues to play a major part in the fabric of our every day life.”
Mayor Darren Musselwhite said he checked out his first book as a child in the 1970s when the library was over on Brookhaven Drive and has many fond memories of spending time in the library.
“I remember the days when you checked the book out and it had a little front pocket and you had to pull the card out and you wrote your name and you checked it out,” Musselwhite said. “We did a lot of fun things at the library.”
Musselwhite said the library has been and remains a key part of Southaven and praised the staff for their dedication and hard work.
“The library has been with Southaven since there was a Southaven,” Musselwhite said. “I just wish everybody that I come in contact with had as much passion about their job as you do. It comes out of your heart and you can tell. I wish everybody went about their endeavors with that much passion.”
Head Librarian Caroline Barnett said the library is making a strong comeback after COVID-19 and remains as relevant today in the community as it did back in the early days. The Southaven branch has an eight person staff and circulates about 7,000 items a month.
“We just came off a summer with lots and lots of families who came to the library,” Barnett said. “We have had fun looking back, but we are also thrilled to be looking forward. We have lots of programing going on and we continue to adapt by offering new services.”