Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Bossier Parish Library Turns 80

The first Bossier Parish Library building was formerly the Post Office in Benton, La. c. 1950s.
Bossier Parish Library Collection: 0000.001.009.

The earliest record of a public library in Bossier Parish dates back to 1857 when U. S. Congressman Col. John M. Sandidge supplied books to establish a library in Bellevue. It is unknown when this library stopped its operation, but Bossier Parish began to work towards opening a public library system in 1926. These efforts were stalled as the United States went into the Great Depression in the fall of 1929. 

In response to the need for relief, reform, and recovery from the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, a series of programs, public work projects, and financial reforms and regulations. The primary focus of these programs was to provide relief for the unemployed and poor, recover the economy back to normal levels, and reform the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. 

A New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, employed 8.5 million people between 1935 and 1943. One initiative of the WPA was to sponsor nationwide, state-level library demonstration projects to encourage the development of library services to underserved populations and to extend rural service while simultaneously providing temporary work for the unemployed. 

The meeting minutes establishing the first Bossier Parish public library system appeared in the Bossier Banner on July 11, 1939, which stated that the library would be located at the Parish seat in Benton, La. and that the library would be supported at the expense of the entire parish. The first Library Board of control was established in that meeting. The first members of the Bossier Parish Library Board were Bossier Parish Police Jury President J. H. Mercer, H. H. Mahaffey, J.J. Waggoner, W.B. Wilbourn, A.L. Bundy, and D.E. Barnett. 

This announcement did not mention that the library would be open on a demonstration basis with support from the WPA for the first year, and then a vote of the taxpayers would be required to keep it open. The Police Jury appropriated $1250 for the public library demonstration project, the WPA provided several assistant librarians, and the Louisiana Library Commission supplied the books. After a year of the demonstration library in operation, it was decided by a vote of the taxpayers to keep the Bossier Parish Libraries in operation. 

Fourteen months later, the first public library opened its doors to the citizens of Bossier Parish in 1940. The first three branches opened between Sept. 20-23, with the Benton and Haughton branches opening on the 20th, Plain Dealing on the 21st and Bossier City on the 23rd. A bookmobile was put into operation to serve the parish’s more rural areas in addition to these branches. It was discontinued due to mechanical problems Nov. 1967. It was grounded and converted into the first Koran branch from 1968 to 1987.

Bossier Parish Library Bookmobile (1957-1967). Became Koran's first library branch (1968-1987). Bossier Parish Library Collection: 1997.037.004

While Bossier Parish was the second demonstration library started in Louisiana, it does boast many firsts. In 1976, the Bossier Parish Library was the first public library in North Louisiana to establish regular Sunday service hours. It was the first public library system in Louisiana to computerize all branches to access information and eliminate card catalogs (card files used in the 1800s and 1900s to access books manually). The first public library in Louisiana to provide private study rooms for individual and group study activities.

Bossier Parish Library was the first public library in Louisiana to offer a parents’ area in the children’s department, children’s play and activity area, and children’s eye-level picture book shelving and display. The first public library to offer extensive staffing and building wing for parish-wide local history. And, the first public library in Louisiana to provide free full internet access with graphics and hypertext linkage at all branches.

The Bossier Parish Library has proudly provided access to an array of materials, programs, and technologies that inform, educate, and entertain the residents of this great parish for the past eighty years. To learn more about the Bossier Parish Library’s history, visit the History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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