Lifetime of Reading

Published 3:21 pm Monday, October 3, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
Atmore librarian, Joyce Bolden remembers going to the movie theater on Saturdays outside of Birmingham with her family to see a double feature. She doesn't remember much about the theater other than it was across the road from the public library. Instead of watching the movie, Bolden could be found sitting in the little red brick building across the street, reading feverishly.
"I love the world of books," Bolden said, " I am very happy around books." According to Bolden, her father was a member of Double Day Book Club. She remembers her father being an avid reader who encouraged his children to read also.
"We grew up during the depression and it was expensive for our father to buy these books," Bolden said, "But he told our mother that the books were not luxury, but a necessity."
Bolden remembers reading every book her father brought into the home. The respect for books and reading her parents instilled in her during her youth, helped Bolden develop a passion for reading that would manifest itself throughout her adult life.
Later in life, Bolden married a fellow Birmingham native, Raymond Bolden. She recalls one of the first things she did, as a married woman was to join Double Day Book Club just like her father.
"I told my husband that I had to join," Bolden said, "I told Raymond that it wasn't an option, I just had to join Double Day. I just had to do it." Bolden's contagious laughter filled the silenced library as she recalled burning many a breakfast because she was so interested in a book that she couldn't put it down.
"I would have a book in one hand, not able to put it down," Bolden said, "while trying to fry bacon and cook for the kids with the other."
Bolden and her husband lived in Birmingham when they had three children, Debbie, Randy and Cindy. Mr. Bolden who worked in the banking business was offered a position in Atmore at United Bank. The couple made the move to Atmore some 30 years ago, when Bolden accepted the position of United Bank president.
At this time, the Bolden's became acquainted with John Garrard, the president of First National Bank in Atmore and chairman of the library board.
Garrard approached Joyce Bolden with a job offer as a part-time librarian of the then W.R. Holley Memorial Library. Bolden was working as President of the Pink Ladies at the hospital in Atmore.
Bolden started working as librarian for Atmore in 1975. Bolden's obvious passion for books was obvious as her part-time duties soon emerged into fulltime hours and a complete renovation of the current library system.
Atmore had been home to the library since 1917, operating out of numerous temporary facilities until 1963 when Mrs. W.R. Holley, a longtime supporter of the library, gave a lot on South Trammel Street and later a donation of $10,000 for the construction of a new library. The library was a project of the Twentieth Century Club of Atmore that soon became a joint effort of many service organizations.
Bolden's leadership of the library led to the formation of the Escambia County Cooperative Library System in 1979. The system was composed of the Atmore, Flomaton, and Brewton libraries in an effort to broaden, improve, and upgrade local libraries and provide library services to all the citizens of the county. The headquarters for the ECCS are still located in Atmore's library today.
In 1980, the W.R. Holley Memorial Library's name was officially changed to the Atmore Public Library in an agreement between Mrs. Ruth Bradley Holley and the City of Atmore.
Atmore Public Library made a monumental move under Bolden's term into a state of the art two-story facility located on the corner of East Church Street and Third Avenue in 1984. The multi-media building was five times the size of the previous location on Trammell Street.
"We went from 1,200 square feet in the old building and 7,000 volumes," Bolden said, "to 12, 000 square feet and 73,394 volumes."
According to Bolden, the library currently has 12,518 patrons from the surrounding area and had a total of 75,000 materials being checked out monthly before Ivan hit last year.
" A lot of people laughed about the size of the building and thought that we would never use it." Bolden said, "Within a year we were at maximum capacity."
The W.T. Neal Trust pledged to match every dollar in local funding for the new library.
Over the past years, the Atmore Library Board through various projects and contributions raised some $81,000.
After 30 years of remarkable growth and change, Joyce Bolden is retiring from her position as librarian. Bolden's plans for retirement were announced in this weeks city council meeting.
"I told her when she first mentioned that she might retire several months ago that I wasn't sure that we would be able to accept that resignation because she's a part of the brick and mortar of the library," Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said. "She has a tremendous program and offers a great service to the community. We regret that she has felt that it's time to retire, but we wish her the best in her retirement. I know she'll always be a good patron of the library and won't be too far away."
The same woman who spent most of her childhood and now adult life in a library loves her job as librarian, but thinks it is time to move on. Bolden will celebrate the end of her career and the beginning of her life when she turns 70 on November 6th this year.
"It is going to be hard for me to leave," Bolden said, "But God is telling me that it is time to go."
According to Bolden her thoughts have turned heavenward. She is looking forward to enjoying the simple things in life once more by spending some time on their wooded property of solitude. The Bolden's are members of St. Roberts Catholic Church in Atmore and are looking forward to becoming more active in the ministry of her parish as well.
Bolden's passion for books will not end however. She already has plans of going to her daughter's school in Mobile twice a week to read to the students.
"My daughter is the Vice Principal of a low incentive school," Bolden said, "And she has asked me to come and read to the children."
Bolden will not only miss the books associated with her job, but she will also miss her staff and library board.
"I have been tremendously blessed." Bolden said, "My staff and board are all very dedicated and committed to this library. I just really love my board and staff. I am very confident that the library will carry on under their direction."
"She's a hard, hard worker and she's so faithful to the library and always goes the second mile," library board chairman, Jerry Garrard said. "She's a very remarkable woman."
Bolden believes it is time for a change in the library system. The library board is now faced with the difficult task of replacing Bolden.
"They don't have to love books as much as I do." Bolden said, "My board will put it in capable hands."
Bolden is looking forward to what she calls a 'spiritual renewal' in her life as she walks away from a lifetime of being surrounded by her love, books.
"I am asking the board if I can keep my master key to the library." Bolden said, "I come every Sunday and just wander around through the books looking at them."
Bolden hopes to continue her Sunday visits alone among the many volumes of books that represent the authors she loves and the lessons she has learned.

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