A Jackson attorney and Belhaven resident, who decided on his own to volunteer his service, is the newest trustee of the Jackson/Hinds Library System.
Peyton Smith, age 36, a partner with Forman Watkins & Krutz, realized the trustee position for Ward 7 was vacant and offered to fill it.
“Mr. Smith reached out to the city and said, ‘I want to help. I know there is a problem and I want to be part of the solution,’” said Virgi Lindsay, who represents Ward 7 and serves as the council’s president.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba nominated Smith and the Jackson City Council confirmed him as a trustee on April 26.
Safiya R. Omari, Ph.D., chief of staff for the mayor, interviewed Smith when he came forward to volunteer his service because the mayor was not available. She told council members during the April 26 meeting that Smith’s sincerity and honesty impressed her.
“His family uses the library system regularly and they are very committed to improving the system so the entire city can benefit from having excellent libraries,” she said.
A graduate of Jackson Academy, Smith grew up in Northeast Jackson where he checked out books from the now defunct Tisdale Library and Willie Morris Library.
He graduated from the University of Mississippi where he majored in English and earned Phi Beta Kappa membership and then received a law degree from the University of Virginia. Smith and his wife, Emmaline, a sixth-grade English teacher at Saint Augustine School in Madison, are parents of daughter, age 6, and a son, age 8.
“We’re book people,” Smith said. “We believe in libraries. One of the highlights of the week is when we go to the library.”
Smith said he hopes to get a better understanding of issues that face the system and find ways to resolve them.
Among the issues are buildings owned either by the city of Jackson or Hinds County that are in disrepair and a struggle to keep employees in low-paying jobs.
Council members expressed the importance of the library system to Smith during the meeting.
Kenneth Stokes, who represents Ward 3 on the council, said he recently visited the Eudora Welty Library for the first time in quite some time and was surprised by the condition of the building, some of which is closed to the public.
“It’s awful,” he said, noting that the Welty Library was once a first-class facility.
Stokes suggested that the Friends of the Library be re-activated as a fundraising arm for the library system. “We need to raise the standards so the libraries can be first class,” he said.
Brian G. Grizzell, who represents Ward 4 on the council, said the city’s libraries are a weakness but that weakness represents an opportunity for growth. He said he hopes Smith’s charisma will help the trustees tap into resources that will be useful in improving the system.
Vernon W. Hartley, who represents Ward 5, recalled that as a child he used books to escape and learn about the world around him. Books are still important for children but that’s not the only function for libraries.
“There are a lot of folks that rely upon the library for their internet and computers,” he said. “That’s an important component.”
Smith’s confirmation as a trustee marks the first one in a year to a 14-member board that now has seven vacant seats.
The mayor still needs to appoint citizens to fill the vacant positions that represent Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 4 and Ward 6. The Hinds County Supervisors need to name trustees for the vacant seats that represent Hinds County District 4, Hinds County District 5 and Hinds County at-large.
The trustees oversee and make decisions about the system, which provides services at seven library branches in Jackson and seven in Hinds County. Trustees also approve expenses, with input from the director and other administrators who handle day-to-day operations.
Smith joins a board that includes Rickey Jones of Ward 5, chairman; Earline Strickland of Hinds County District 1, treasurer; Mary Garner, Hinds County District 2, vice chair; the Rev. Danny Ray Hollins, Hinds County at-large; Alferdteen Harrison, Hinds County District 3; and Chester Ray Jones, Ward 3.
The board usually meets at 4 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month, except for June and December. Meetings are usually held in the computer lab at the Eudora Welty Library in downtown Jackson but are subject to change.