Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bossier Parish's First Librarian

Portrait of Mary Elisabeth Williams by A. Menosco.
Bossier Parish Library Collection: 2000.093.001.
Before the first Bossier Parish library opened its doors, Elisabeth Williams was already working behind the scene to establish the public library system in this parish. After earning her degree in Library Science from the University of Illinois, she began her career in Tennessee at the Cossitt Public Library in Memphis. Then she worked for the Louisiana Library Commission in Baton Rouge and opened and operated the demonstration library in Arcadia as the Bienville Parish librarian.

Opening and operating demonstration libraries involved much more than ordering, cataloging, and shelving books. A vital role as the head librarian was the promotion of the library. Williams would speak to groups of people throughout the parish to explain the importance of having a public library and how to obtain books.

At a Lions Club meeting, “She explained how this new service is being provided to the people of the entire parish – through branch libraries in Benton, Bossier City, Plain Dealing, Haughton and Elm Grove (the latter having been opened two weeks ago) and a regular weekly ‘bookmobile’ tour of the parish, covering 300 miles and serving all of the smaller communities of the parish.”

Elisabeth Williams (left) and Jessica Boatner (right) providing books to children
in Bossier Parish's first bookmobile. Source: The Shreveport Times, Feb. 14, 1941.

“She also explained that library service of this type costs about $15,000, or about a one-mill tax per year. This year, however, the service is being provided as a demonstration project, with the State Library Commission, the WPA and the Bossier Parish Police Jury cooperating.” She urged that the police jury be requested to vote a special tax to support the library, and she encouraged citizens to get behind the library to make it permanent.

With the demonstration period scheduled to end on Sept. 1, 1941, the Bossier Parish Police Jury felt the urgency to secure the public library’s continuance. On June 12, 1941, the following announcement appeared in the Bossier Banner. “The Bossier Parish Police Jury held a regular meeting, at the Court House, in Benton, Tuesday afternoon of this week, at which time it was voted to levy a half-mill tax, for 1941 and 1942, to continue the Bossier Parish Library system for more than a year.

“A delegation of more than 25 women and men, from every section of the parish, appeared before the Jury to speak in favor of the library. It was decided not to call a special one-mill tax election for the library’s support. Considerable discussion was had before the vote was taken and only one juror voted against the final motion.”

Williams continued as the head librarian of Bossier Parish until she retired in 1967. Before her retirement, she “went on to found the Red River Parish Library in 1962-63 and she administered the two-parish library system.” She was a member of the American Library Association, the Louisiana Library Association, and the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority. She was president of the Caddo-Bossier Library Club and the business manager of the Louisiana Library Association’s publication, ‘The Bulletin.’

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 BPL History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

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