Wedowee - This town's library has no heat. The roof leaks. It's behind on the rent. And a sign on itsdoor says, "Open whenever personally practical."
But what librarian/folk singer Steve Sedberry offers Wedowee, in between plunks of drops falling from the ceiling into buckets, is thousands of books, most of which he donated himself to the community.
"People need to read to progress, to be a part of the rest of the world," he says, wrapped in a winter coat in the building.
"It's hard to feel totally isolated when you read, because a book has other people's experience in it. Can you imagine how many light bulbs have gone off in people's heads in libraries?" [should have read "gone on"]
Sedberry, 48, moved to Newell in Randolph County in 1988.
He had managed to save a little bit of money and wanted to buy some land and build a home.
"I found this place that was the cheapest land I could get," he says. "You know the old saying that sometimes you end up with more than what you bargained for.
Well, that was true when I moved here. The services were really limited in a place where the tax base was so low."
Growing up in Birmingham and moving around the country as a folk singer, he had always found public libraries to be wondrous places. Each book was an adventure waiting to be unlocked. And the libraries made that potential available to everyone for free.
"I bought the land, but that was not enough to make it a home," he says. "You need a reason for being some place. You can't just live on an island.
"I just wanted a library close by and there was none. I started talking to people about it.
I talked to the mayors and the County Commission and nobody would do anything about it.
It's not because they didn't want to. They didn't have the money."
Sedberry met Joe Walker, whose father had owned a dry-cleaning business in downtown Wedowee, 12 East Broadway, [should have read "Broad Street"] across from the county courthouse. [on the south side of the Court House; nowadays you will find part of the county commission office there! Joe died in early 1998 and willed the building to Randolph County!]
The building was abandoned. [should have read "vacant"]
Walker offered it to Sedberry for a library the first few months for free. Sedberry opened his "Volunteer library" in July. He tries to keep the library open whenever he can.
"I think we are building," he says. "I have a few loyal patrons. People have donated a lot of the shelves. People give me boxes of old books all the time."
Step inside the library and it looks jumbled. Books and shelving are piled everywhere. There is a musty bookish smell. Light from a skylight peeks in.
A few stray pieces of laundry hang from the top of a loft. Maneuvering around the shelves and the buckets placed to catch the water is a minor test of agility.
There is no Dewey Decimal system here.
Sedberry organizes the books into categories himself on shelves that he struggles to find. "I do it all myself, so it is slow," he says apologetically. "It still looks much like it did in July."
But there are many surprises in his collection: a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1905, an astonishing collection of histories by Roman writers, hundreds of children's books. [most of the children's books were given away when we closed]
There is a beautiful collection of books on art. Being a musician, he has a fair amount of music.
"Someone gave me like 100 old Rolling Stone magazines, all perfectly preserved." he says. "I don't know if anyone really wants them. I don't know what to do with them."
He says it seems like everyone wants to donate their copies of Readers Digest condensed books. "Everybody wants to give them away," he says. "Nobody ever wants to check them out. I'm thinking of dipping them in Polyurethane and using them for bricks."
Sedberry hopes one day when the community has the money, it will be able to invest a little in his library. Fix the roof. Get the books better organized. Get some more reading tables. But he is content for now to offer what he can.
"A book that is not being read is like an orphan," he says. And he hopes for many adoptions.
You may feel moved to contact Steve with moral support or offers of assistance:
17 Oct 2002
The books have been in a warehouse for several years and still need a home.
Steve Sedberry, 100 CR 525, Newell, AL 36270-4312 sedberry3 AT yahoo.com