Subscription libraries were started in America by Benjamin Franklin in 1732. A subscription library enrolled members for an annual fee of about $2.50 and used that fee to buy books. In January 1883, a group of local gentlemen got together to form a reading room, and by April, they had the grand opening of the Natchez Library in the basement of the Institute building. A major motivation was to provide a place for young men who “might otherwise find amusement in objectionable places” and who “have no place in which they can innocently and profitably spend their leisure moments”. There was a controversy over whether to allow women to belong to the Association, but they did decide to include them. In 1891 the name was changed to Alvarez Fisk Memorial Library and Museum.
In 1900 only three public libraries existed in the entire State of Mississippi. These were located in Natchez, Holly Springs and Biloxi. During the 1930’s a WPA (Works Progress Administration) county library was established in Natchez, but was closed in 1943 when its collection and equipment were combined to form the Fisk Memorial Library, which was located in Memorial Hall. The Fisk Library closed its doors in 1965 after the construction of a new public library building was completed, the Judge George W. Armstrong Library.
We have some old newspaper clippings from 1883 telling about the formation of the Natchez Library Association, which set up a subscription library open to the public. These clippings make for very interesting reading. We’re working on making these articles available on our web site.