Welcome To Monroeville

Monroeville, Alabama, is quiet today. The town square looks perfect at dusk. The birds are chirping. The shops are lined in tight rows. The Victory roses are in bloom. Mel’s Dairy Dream is doing steady business.

An occasional muddy Chevy truck cruises down Main Street, windows rolled down, with godawful modern pop-country music blasting, just to remind everyone that, yes, although this sophisticated town is the “Literary Capital of Alabama,” birthplace of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Truman Capote, local teenagers here, like anywhere else, still play music loud enough to fracture Pittsburgh steel.

Today is the Monroe County Public Library’s 95th anniversary. I am in town to storytell in honor of the occasion. Why they chose me for this gig, I don’t know. I come from people who used books only for fly swatters. I am a dropout with no pedigree. But here I am.

I am standing in this small-town library to honor the American institution of books, and all people who hedge their lives around the power of sentences.

You can keep your politicians and your social influencers. Librarians are my heroes.

“I wanted our library to be fun,” says the head librarian. “I wanted kids to feel at home. I remember when I was a kid and librarians were always telling us kids to hush. That’s why we never shush children here.”

The library in this rural county has been in operation since Babe Ruth was hitting homers, movies were silent and the Model A was hot.

Meantime, in 1927, a bunch of do-gooders in Monroe County, Alabama, were deciding to offer literature to all. It was a unique time in America, an era when nearly 5 million U.S. citizens didn’t know how to read their own names. This library was a haven.

Today, this humble library owns the largest collection of books in the county. It’s also a famous place. Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote probably had library cards here.

“Two world famous American authors come from our town,” said one local woman. “And just think, they probably got their starts in this library system, sitting in a circle at storytime.”

This place is still the quintessential sanctuary for children with an inclination toward the printed word. Go inside and you might see a kid covered in freckles, wearing a camouflage hat, browsing a bookshelf of Westerns. Or
you might meet a young Black girl, her hair in tight braids, reading Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” aloud to her little sister.

Before the library moved to its current location, this building was a hotel. Just above the fiction section is the suite where Gregory Peck once stayed while preparing to portray the lead in the film adaptation of “Mockingbird.” They tell me Peck was here to study the authentic South Alabamian accent.

I met an elderly woman who remembers meeting Peck when she was a little girl. I asked what he was like. “Bless him,” she said. “He talked like a Yankee, but he couldn’t help it.”

In my time as a writer, I have written too much about libraries and librarians. I have shamelessly praised the American library system until people are flat sick of the subject. And I don’t blame them.

Still, I can’t help the way I feel. Because, for dropouts like me, libraries were everything. I realize we live in the age of the Internet, and the idea of consulting brick-and-mortar institutions for information is archaic.

But in my boyhood, before the dawn of digital information, there was only one way to access the greatest minds in collective history. And you did that right here. At a library.

As a kid, you biked into town, you walked past the double doors, sweaty, with your Chuck Taylors half untied. You asked the librarian about a particular book. She led you through the aisles, she removed a selection from the shelf. You felt a slight thrill when she handed you the novel of your dreams.

And if you were lucky, she turned a blind eye to the late fees you had been accruing since the birth of Christ.

Eventually, although you weren’t aware of it happening, you went from being an ignorant kid who read slowly, to an ignorant kid who could read nine pages in three minutes. But make no mistake, your new literary talent didn’t just happen by accident. It happened because someone, at sometime in history, somewhere in your county, decided that your region needed a library.

So happy 95th birthday to the Monroe County Library, perhaps the greatest and most noble public library in the nation.

Except, of course, for my hometown library. And yours, too.


  1. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - April 22, 2022 8:00 am

    I’m from very rural Alabama. Our school had 4 classrooms but 6 grades. No library but book mobiles in summer. I’d usually check out 1/2 a dozen. The Mouse & The Motorcycle. I bet I read it 10 times.
    Most of my friends had no interest in the book mobile but I’ve been a reader since about 4. Thanks dad.

  2. Laura - April 22, 2022 9:09 am

    My little southern CA town had a library in a wonderful old two-story building. The kids library was downstairs off the 8th St entrance, down a few stairs and the adult section was up a wonderful stone staircase on the Main St entrance. Then for some reason they decided to move across the street into the closed up Safeway grocery store and that beautiful old building was torn down to make way for a modern bank. Thank goodness they left the town Christmas tree standing at the corner of 8th and Main for at least a few more years. Having their own library and their own hospital (which my dad ran for 30 years and mom ran the gift shop for many more years after he passed) was the pride of that town.

  3. Tim Smith - April 22, 2022 10:27 am

    Yep. The High Point (NC) Public Library beside the YMCA was where I read a series of biographies for a summer reading program. It sparked in me a love of history that still burns.

  4. Connie - April 22, 2022 10:41 am

    Please tell me that the crowd picked up in the courthouse, if not….their loss!!!
    HBD (95) to the Monroeville Library!

  5. Wally Evans - April 22, 2022 10:45 am

    Sean as I am a slow reader, can’t spell and have a horrible time with vocabulary I want to thank Mrs. Terry the the Librarian of Decatur High School 1965 for being the person you have so dearly described. I’m sure she has past but if any of her family reads this may be they will appreciate more what she meant to many of us. This from a kid who acted up and was sent to study hall for many times for misbehaving but Mrs. Terry always believed in me.

  6. Marianne Bryan - April 22, 2022 10:46 am

    In my childhood hometown of Jasper, Al. , the library was my favorite childhood place. It was my haven through high school. Carl Elliott was my hero, because the library bore his name.

  7. Ann Thompson. - April 22, 2022 10:51 am

    I’m with you…on libraries and the awful music. Thank goodness for libraries. Beyond the reading our libraries are social services.

  8. Melanie Herr - April 22, 2022 11:24 am

    My 8th grade granddaughter along with her class visited this historic library in Monroeville, Ala. Not riding a bicycle but transported by a “tourist style” bus from a bordering state! But the goal was historically the same – exposing each student to the value of literature historically and in her future, to inspire greatness and a way of viewing the society she lives in from the pages of books! Great authors, unending knowledge, personal growth and development, knowledge that is hers for just reading “paper”! What an inspiration (influenced by her English and Literature teacher) for a soon to be Freshman! I hope her generation continues to value libraries, timeless novels and books that are the foundation of learning and living!

  9. Donna George-Moskovitz - April 22, 2022 11:25 am

    Your endings are bittersweet. They wrap up your story in a satisfying way, but goodbyes are such sweet sorrow.

  10. Emily Walls Ray - April 22, 2022 11:40 am

    Sean, here is one of the best short stories ever written. At least that’s what Truman said. I agree! Emily formerly of Alabama:


    Keep up the good work for Scout and all the girls and for Boo and all the boys!

  11. Emily Walls Ray - April 22, 2022 11:45 am

    Sean, Truman (and I) think this is the best short story ever written:


    I used to bring in fruitcake to my 6th grade English and creative writing classes and read it aloud to them in my best Alabama (I’m from T-town) accent. Been in Virginia 28 years. Miss me some Alabama talk! Please keep it up for Scout and all the girls and for Boo and all the boys. Emily Walls Ray

  12. Emily Walls Ray - April 22, 2022 11:47 am

    Sorry folks! Wasn’t sure it took, y’all! Roll Tide!

  13. Mac - April 22, 2022 11:52 am

    “Bless him,” she said. “He talked like a Yankee, but he couldn’t help it.” Quintessential Southernism! I can just hear the lilt in her voice. Got to love little ole southern ladies!

  14. Lynn - April 22, 2022 11:54 am

    Your recent stories of libraries and librarians have awakened memories from my childhood hometown up in (southern) Indiana. You’ve inspired me to take on a big project there. Thank you!

  15. writetouchgirl - April 22, 2022 12:00 pm

    Fascinating Library

    The sign hanging off the green cord read “Private.” It cordoned off the massive mahogany staircase in the antebellum mansion (known as the Jemison home) turned-library leading up to darkness above me. Through the eyes of an eight-year-old, it looked like stairs to another world. It was, however, a path forbidden to me and other library patrons, adding to its mystery. Later, I would learn these were the library offices, but they never lost their appeal for me as a place in the dark above the stairs where I was not to go.
    Tipping my head back, I gazed across the room at dark eyes that seemed to be resting on me from above. Sometimes I got goose bumps looking up at this brown, carved bust of a warrior. Chief Tuskaloosa,* for whom my hometown in Alabama is named, loomed fearless. From my earliest memory, the presence of his bust could evoke a foreboding feeling as I crept along the dark, creaking wooden floors. I knew to be quiet. Yet I enjoyed the game of treading gingerly, trying not to wake the floorboards as I eagerly headed into the children’s fiction room and away from the warrior’s gaze. Yet I knew he was there, watching over the setting that had once been along his warpath that stretched to Mobile. The town that was his namesake later became the state capital for a time, but decades of history had changed the seat of the state along with the fortunes of the once fierce warrior. Fortunately, the beautiful example of Italianate architecture along Greensboro Avenue was spared the ravages of war, and made a striking impression as the city’s library.
    It didn’t hurt the building’s mystique that stories surrounded it that included a secret tunnel from the vast cellar to the Black Warrior (Chief Tuskaloosa’s tribe) River. The tale involved a rumored escape route of slaves seeking freedom. I don’t think this was ever proved, nor was the story of the captain’s walk at the top of the structure that served as a lonely vantage point from which a young lady of the house waited hopelessly for the hoped for (but never achieved) return of a forbidden love. I may not have been conscious of the details of these stories at the time, but as a child, the romance and intrigue of the place itself was not lost on me. Everything about it was mysterious.
    In the children’s section, the smell of bookbinding materials mixed with glue permeated the plastered walls and the heavy bookcases. The former plantation home also smelled of dust, dried up honeysuckle that had attached itself to the brick foundation, and of ancient boxwood. All of these aromas, along with the unnaturally loud ticking of an antique grandfather clock signaled my happy place. I poured through the shelves, touching well-worn children’s chapter books, pages slightly stained with the brushing of eager hands. I felt pure joy when the book flap promised a story I could enter instantly.
    While Mama, holding my little sister’s hand (she was too young then to appreciate the ‘spooky’ charm of the place) explored books in the adult fiction (Chief Tuskaloosa’s) room, I would often ask to go outside. I couldn’t wait to tuck into the stories. Mama would hand me her library card and I’d stand on tiptoe to check out my latest finds. The librarian sometimes commented on my choice of reading material.
    “You’ll love this one,” or “Let me know how you like this,” she’d say.
    I managed to hold my books while an adult held open one of the heavy doors. The veranda held a huge attraction. The marble front steps flanked by two large curved stones looked (but didn’t feel) like giant slides. Mostly, I loved the veranda’s privacy to explore my new treasures. My favorite reading nook was the farthest corner of the porch. I liked to lean against one of the floor-to-ceiling dark green shutters that was secured onto the wall with huge wrought-iron fasteners. No one could see me sitting Indian-style here unless they came all the way around the corner, and only my mother knew to look. It was my secret place, where the stories, ancient smells and boxwoods created a labyrinth for my imagination.
    For many years, it remained my favorite place to read and write. I would imagine growing up to be a reporter for a well-known newspaper. Sometimes I pictured myself as a lonely poet. As the modern and female Bobby Burns, I would write above formidable Scottish cliffs, wearing a Shetland sweater with elbow patches as I fought the wind and strands of my wild hair. Later, when it was time to fill out college applications, I leaned back against the same wall, legs outstretched on the porches’ painted planks as I planned my real life adventures.
    Years after the library had moved to a new chrome, stone, and glass facility near the Black Warrior River, I read about the purchase and restoration of the old Italianate mansion. It would always think of it as the library. The buyer was restoring it with much research and care. Eventually it became available to the community for special events. I attended a nephew’s wedding on the premises in later years, happily tromping up the formerly forbidden mahogany staircase to change into wedding clothes in what had once been the library offices.
    On one of my visits back home I visited the “new” library and didn’t see the statue. I felt so disappointed at not finding my childhood talisman. I asked several of the library employees about the absence of the bust. Everyone who looked at least my age remembered the bust vividly, but did not know of its exact whereabouts.
    During another visit a few years later, I returned to the modern library, thrilled this time to find the chief prominently displayed in his “new” vantage point, silently surveying subsequent generations of schoolchildren. However, in my mind, he’s still the noble brave who watched over my small frame from the highest bookcase of a much older, sacred space.

    *The original spelling of Tuskaloosa was changed to Tuscaloosa.

  16. writetouchgirl - April 22, 2022 12:03 pm

    I hope it was okay to post this memory of my Tuscaloosa home library. I do not mean to be impolite; so please remove if this was a faux pas. Emily

  17. Ann of Mobile - April 22, 2022 12:11 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful and accurate commentary on public libraries, librarians, and the iconic library of Monroeville, Alabama. I thank you also on behalf of my mother, Anna Viola White Harper, a dedicated librarian much of her life. She passed on last year a couple of months prior to her 96th birthday. I wish I could have been there for your performance last night; maybe next time.

  18. Dale Parsons - April 22, 2022 12:17 pm

    My dear wife taught 7th graders for twenty-two years and loved it. After retiring in 2017 she battled breast cancer and, thank God, won. Two weeks ago she started her “dream job” as the librarian, back at the same middle school where she retired five years ago. Love your writing, Sean.
    Dale & Mary Parsons, North Branch, Michigan

  19. Sandra Jones - April 22, 2022 12:22 pm

    Thank you for appreciating librarians . They change lives

  20. Jan - April 22, 2022 12:27 pm

    My favorite place in the world during my childhood and early teen years. My mother drove 20 miles each Saturday during the summer so I could return my books and get new ones. I got the maximum they would let a child check out and read them all twice before we could go back the next Saturday. Heaven on earth!

  21. Katy Maddox - April 22, 2022 12:29 pm

    Sean- I’m compelled to write and tell you- I have learned it is twice as hard to be self-taught. It is unique and priceless to be that “one” in a hundred who triumphed with advantage, pedigree or encouragement. As a mother of five people who all hold graduate degrees, I once shied from answering the telling question “what’s your degree in”? I have anchored on television news, owned & published (and wrote) a magazine. I taught five little people to read chapter books before they started school and now they are surgeons and dentists, analysts and life saving physician assistants. My mantra is “God first” and “you can learn ANYTHING by reading”. You are my brother in a fine and honorable fraternity- use your beautiful mind for God’s glory, Sean! (Yes, I love me some Oxford commas)

    • Katy - April 22, 2022 12:32 pm

      Yikes!!! Typo- I meant to say “without” advantage, pedigree or advantage! Perfect example of an entire paragraph being changed by one word🥴

  22. Sarah - April 22, 2022 12:34 pm

    As an only child, lonely, overweight and with a difficult stepmother, the Carnegie Public Library (4 blocks from home) was my sacred refuge. It is a stately 2- story red brick building with concrete columns across the front. The children’s section was upstairs, and all the floors were wood so long in place that everywhere you stepped squeaked! And the smell of the place! The heavenly aroma of books and old wood was intoxicating! When I’d read everything in the children’s section upstairs, I helped myself to the adult section downstairs; but I felt like an intruder, afraid some authoritative adult would object to my 12-year-old presence and send me away. But no one ever said a single thing, and I eventually gained confidence in my right to be there and could be found hunting the shelves several times a week all summer long. And now I am an elderly lady who reads books on an iPad! But I attend a monthly group meeting right there in my childhood refuge, and I assure you that the moment I enter the front door, the squeaky floor and heavenly fragrance of books makes me 12 years old again!

  23. Jackye Thompson - April 22, 2022 12:41 pm

    I have loved books my eighty plus years too
    I so do love your stories every day. Thank you

  24. James Key - April 22, 2022 12:43 pm

    I wonder why you often times inject race into your daily posts. Life is not all about race, in my experience.

    • Lucinda - April 22, 2022 2:29 pm

      The idea is that all are equal and enjoying these special times. Sorry you missed it.

      • Harriet White - April 22, 2022 8:00 pm


  25. Marie - April 22, 2022 12:46 pm

    My brother and I were fortunate to have a Daddy who loved to read and a Mama who read to us frequently from the “Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible” (Fine Arts Edition). This beautifully illustrated “continuous narrative of the Scriptures told in one hundred sixty-eight stories” was a gift to my Daddy’s family upon the death of their mother. We both are avid lifelong readers. One of our favorite summer activities was walking, to meet the Bookmobile at our neighbor’s house, about 1/2 mile away (and yes, alone, no one gave it a thought). Not only were we able to check out an armload each of wonderful books but it was bone chillingly AIR CONDITIONED and a wonderful respite on those hot, humid days in the South.

  26. John M Williams - April 22, 2022 1:17 pm

    Love your daily writings!

  27. norma curley - April 22, 2022 1:21 pm

    As a southern woman and my dear sister who both married lovely Yankee men-I laughed out loud about the elderly ladies description of Mr Peck=’he talked like a yankee but he couldn’t help it’! love your writings Sean!

  28. Doris Putnal - April 22, 2022 2:26 pm

    You make me proud to be a Monroe County Native. Keep up the good work Sean.

  29. Larry Popwell - April 22, 2022 2:29 pm

    Thank you. As a fourth grader back in Calera, Alabama, I was blessed to learn to read in the tiny city library in the city hall building. The Oregon Trail, which I have never knowingly seen, comes to mind. Other things so enlightening, we’re present in my thoughts. I knew immediately, as poor white trash, my life was destined to be more. Now, as a retired educator, I appreciate and read you daily.

  30. Taylor Craven - April 22, 2022 2:32 pm

    We had a country store in the MS Delta. Our store had a red gravel drive/parking lot. The BOOKMOBILE used our lot as a staging area for us country kids. We enjoyed it very much. Her name was Ms Jackson, white haired with a love of reading. She’d even read/skim books for me so I’d have a selection waiting for my ‘checkout’ when she arrived. Our mobile library was awesome.

  31. Rhonda - April 22, 2022 3:11 pm

    I was born in DeFuniak Springs Florida. On the lake just across from a tiny closet of a library I believe was the first public library in Florida

  32. Nancy Carnahan - April 22, 2022 3:34 pm

    I’ve never noticed that you inject race into your writing. Why does it matter?
    My daddy said I was reading before I started school. I don’t remember who taught me. I read anything I could get my hands on. I read Jane Eyre in 4th grade. I should read it again to refresh my memory.
    Keep up the good work.

  33. Kathryn - April 22, 2022 3:51 pm

    I love libraries, especially the older ones! As soon as I walk in, the aroma of paper, books and something undefinable ,(maybe magic?), overwhelms me. I can spend hours there – it’s a separate world! I was right back in my hometown library as I read your column! Thanks.

    • Suzanne - April 22, 2022 11:28 pm

      That is the very feeling I had. There is nothing so grand as a library no matter it’s size.

  34. JonDragonfly - April 22, 2022 3:56 pm

    Thank you, Emily, for your extended memory of the library. I enjoyed it as much as I did Sean’s.

  35. JonDragonfly - April 22, 2022 4:00 pm

    I love the recurring themes of “pleasure”, “haven”, “treasures”, and “aromas” that people find at their libraries.

  36. Christina - April 22, 2022 4:06 pm

    Cheers to every tiny and mega library for being sanctuaries for every kid and kids at heart.

  37. Vince - April 22, 2022 5:41 pm

    Librarians and their bound charges cannot be over praised. Condensed knowledge and they are the keepers and sharers of it. We should all have a great respect for books for the work put into them and librarians who keep and share them. Yeah, the internet is nice.. but there is something about feel, sound, and smell of a book that just can’t be beat. If the internet is out and you have no books or magazines, how can one enjoy reading? The already printed word cannot be changed or ‘fact checked’ either.

  38. Suellen - April 22, 2022 5:44 pm

    I might have said it before but when my adult handicapped daughter left high school she was reading at about a first grade level. My husband decided to go to the Seminary and we moved. Money was so tight (and he was always studying) that about our only entertainment was going to the library. Slowly things started clicking with her and now she’s reading middle school level library books on her Kindle and sometimes above. Libraries are marvelous places. So are those who have the desire to educate themselves and stick with it. Looking at you Sean! You have touched more people and achieved more than most PHD’s.

  39. pattymack43 - April 22, 2022 5:57 pm

    PLEASE!!!! Never stop writing about libraries!! There will never be “too much writing about libraries”. Thank you!!!!!

  40. Mark Capaldini - April 22, 2022 6:06 pm

    Amen. Let’s not take our local public libraries for granted.

  41. Linda Moon - April 22, 2022 7:06 pm

    In 2008 I took a group of my students to “An Evening with Scout” at our local Library Theatre. The event was part of the library’s “Big Read, one page at a time.” A few years prior to that My Guy and I saw “To Kill A Mockingbird”, a play presented at the old Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama. And in 2006 we attended the Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony for Nelle Harper Lee. I know why you were chosen. This former librarian and the Guy will be seeing you soon!

  42. Jean Dudley - April 22, 2022 7:40 pm

    Amen and amen. From a book-loving retired school librarian

  43. Ingrid Whigham - April 22, 2022 7:57 pm

    Libraries–wonderful places to learn, feel safe and find escapes to anywhere you want to be. I’ve always loved libraries–have a stack of library books on my shelf now–and took my small son with me to visit our library often.

  44. Becky+Souders - April 22, 2022 8:36 pm

    “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” -Neil Gaiman

  45. Patricia Gibson - April 22, 2022 8:36 pm

    I use to spend hours in the library!! Wonderful times💚

  46. Sharon Faircloth - April 22, 2022 8:55 pm

    Mr. Sean, my book club friends and I felt so blessed to be at your show last night! You did the Library proud for their 95th Anniversary! I also adore all libraries and how it seems to be that the more one reads, the better one is able to write! I wrote a post about our evening with Sean of the South on my blog linked below. Thanks again for coming to Monroeville!

  47. Sharon Faircloth - April 22, 2022 9:03 pm

    Mr. Sean, my book club friends and I felt very fortunate to be at your show last night! You did the library proud for their 95th Anniversary! I also adore all libraries and the fact that the more one reads, the better one is able to write! I wrote a post about our evening with Sean of the South on my blog linked below. Thanks again for coming to Monroeville!

  48. Jim bellard - April 22, 2022 11:34 pm

    You clearly touch a lot of souls mr Dietrich. Keep up this good, very good work

  49. Slimpicker - April 22, 2022 11:49 pm

    Sean, of all the dogs I have had over the years, the smartest ones had no pedigree. So you are in good company. Benjamin Franklin started the first library.

  50. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 23, 2022 12:55 am

  51. Jane Frizzell - April 24, 2022 12:45 am

    As a retired school librarian, I’ll just say, “Bless you.”❤️

  52. Jo Vaughn - April 24, 2022 10:40 pm

    I grew up in Monroeville. I remember when the library was on the other side of the square beside the old jail that housed the Soil Conservation service where my mother, Ann Nettles worked for years. I could walk to her office from home on Sunset Drive. Visit her and then step into the coolness of the library! There was a book in there with a red hardcover where I first saw “ Starry Night” how I long to see that book again and I can never forget the smell there in the library. It was a pleasing smell. I enjoyed that library so much.

  53. Daphne Woodall - April 26, 2022 7:28 am

    As the youngest of eleven kids in our family the town library in our southern state was my hideaway. I loved to escape to the air conditioned library in the summer. I would get lost in the stories. I loved the smell of the polished tables and the hush tones. The walk past the fragrant magnolias meant I was a few steps from my imagination between those beautiful pages.


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