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State Librarian Stephen Parks Sworn in for Third Term

Mon, 01/29/2024 - 01:30pm

State Librarian

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, at right, administers the oath of office to State Librarian Stephen Parks at the Capitol on Jan. 4.

State Librarian Stephen Parks, an adjunct professor at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), was elected to his third term earlier this month during a joint session of the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Mississippi Senate. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann administered the oath of office to Parks in the House Chambers at the Capitol.

Parks, an attorney and educator, has served as State Librarian since January 2016. He oversees the State Library, commonly known as the State Law Library, a specialized public library which provides legal research materials for the judiciary, state agencies, lawyers, students, and the public.

He also serves as an adjunct professor in USM’s School of Library and Information Science, focusing on government resources and publications. Students in his course study and learn methods of locating and analyzing available government information.

Embarking on his third term as State Librarian, Parks noted, “My main objective is to continue providing the same level of service that we always have and be known as a place where one can readily access the foundations of Mississippi law. One big objective is to maintain and preserve our older materials for future users. Efforts are underway to digitize materials, particularly from the 19th Century, and make those available online through partnerships with other law libraries.”

A native of La Grange, N.C., Parks earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science, magna cum laude, from East Carolina University in 2006. He earned a law degree, magna cum laude, from MC Law in 2010, and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from USM in 2013.

Parks serves on numerous boards and committees. In 2022, he served as President of the Mississippi Library Association, becoming the first law librarian to serve in that role.

In 2021, he completed a three-year term as a member of the Depository Library Council, a national advisory body that advises the Director of the Government Publishing Office (GPO) on policy matters relating to the Federal Depository Library Program and access to U.S. government information.

Parks continued his work with the Depository Library Council after GPO Director Hugh Halpern appointed him in 2022 to a 23-member task force on a Digital Federal Depository Library Program. The Task Force, after a year of study, made recommendations that the Federal Depository Library Program move to a digital program.

Parks is the 14th State Librarian to serve since the position was brought forward in the 1890 Constitution. The role of the State Librarian has changed over time. Parks explained that the office of State Librarian at one time held a prominent role in the Legislature, building a collection of material for use by state officials. In 1989, the Legislature abolished the State Library as a separate agency and placed it under the direction of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Library provides law library services to the Supreme Court and other state courts, to state officials and to the general public.

While the Law Library is an important research asset for judges and lawyers, Parks pointed out an example of library assisted research that enabled an artist to uncover a part of his family history and render it on canvas. After striking up a conversation at a chance meeting with Nashville artist Noah Saterstrom at an art show, Parks was able to assist the artist with research that the artist had started many years ago into the disappearance of his great grandfather, a traveling optometrist. 

The artist sought to document a 40-year institutionalization at the Mississippi State Insane Asylum in Jackson and the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. Parks found legal records from the arrest and mental health commitment hearing in 1924, admittance into the Mississippi State Hospital, the divorce trial and other records. Saterstrom tells the story in 183 canvases spanning 122 feet. The exhibition “What Became of Dr. Smith” will open at the Mississippi Museum of Art in April.

Parks has worked extensively to make historical documents easily accessible. He established a partnership with the Mississippi Digital Library to provide some of the Law Library’s historical items online. He also began a major digital initiative, scanning the journals of each of Mississippi's Constitutional Conventions to make them available online for historians and researchers.

In his earlier work before he joined the Law Library, Parks led work to archive and make accessible online more recent proceedings of the appellate courts and the Legislature. The American Association of Law Libraries and the Mississippi Historical Society honored Parks for his work for innovation and technology and for public access to government information.

At Mississippi College School of Law, as director of the Judicial Data Project, Parks led work which compiled into a searchable database the opinions, case briefs and oral argument videos of the Mississippi Supreme Court and Mississippi Court of Appeals from 2007 forward. Parks also devised and directed the Legislative History Project at MC Law. The website is a searchable database which archives video of floor debate in the Mississippi Senate and House from 2012 forward.

He previously taught legal research at MC Law for five years and at Tulane’s former Madison campus in its paralegal studies program. He has taught legal research in continuing legal education programs and has given numerous presentations on legal research and librarianship.

The Mississippi Law Library, located in the Gartin Justice Building at 450 High Street in Jackson, is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, except on holidays.