Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Bringing the Library to the Community

Librarians of the Bossier Demonstration Library project at the opening of the Benton Branch Library
20 Sep. 1940, Source: The Bossier Banner 26 Sep. 1940

Libraries are a quintessential part of how people learn and engage with their community. The arrival of public libraries gave Americans previously unprecedented access to books and other educational materials. They are open to all and focus on serving the needs of the general public.

At the core of the public library's mission is community access to its collections, which traditionally included books and periodicals. Today, public library collections include so much more. By adapting to and embracing technologies, libraries began including microfilm and taped recordings, and now they provide a large variety of digital collections, databases, and virtual programs.

A critical role in serving the public is through programmings such as educational classes, summer reading for kids, discussion groups, community events, and hosting concerts, art exhibitions, and gaming. Public libraries adapt to their communities' changing needs, not only with changing technologies but also during times of crisis such as wartimes, natural disasters, and pandemics.

Another vital role of the public library is outreach. Outreach allows librarians to put a friendly face on library services and to meet our patrons where they are—used to reach nonusers, infrequent users, and the underserved. Understanding that not every community member can come to the library, outreach involves providing services outside the library walls.

In an article for the American Libraries Magazine, Abby Johnson asserted, "Just as the community belongs in the library, the library belongs in the community." Often, a library's most critical work is the work done outside the library and in the community, where it can reach the underserved, nonusers, and infrequent users.

In the early 19th century, librarians reached rural communities by horseback or horse-drawn carriages to carry books and periodicals to patrons. With the automobile's introduction, motorized bookmobiles began appearing in 1920 but were not widespread until about 1942. Whether powered by a horse or by a motor, the bookmobile was and, in many communities, still is an excellent method of reaching out to community members that cannot reach the library.

Bossier Parish opened its first public library in 1940, starting with only four branches and a bookmobile to reach the parish's more rural communities. By 1952, the bookmobile was making 61 stops every two weeks. The bookmobile served our community's rural members for 28 years until mechanical issues, and the changing needs of its patrons took it out of commission.

The last operating BPL bookmobile c. 1968
Emma Pattillo Collection: 0000.011.010a

In 1977, the Bossier Parish Libraries once again bought a bookmobile, but this time it was used to create a new branch in the Koran community. A Louisiana State Library bookmobile scheduled for the junkyard was acquired by parish librarian Lynda M. Netherland. The state agreed to donate the retired bookmobile if the Bossier Parish Library would cover the transportation cost to relocate it to its new home. The repurposed bookmobile was used as the Koran branch until 1987 when a portable office building replaced it, quadrupling its book capacity.

Source: The Bossier Press-Tribune, Photo By: Tom Bryson

Outreach has always been an essential part of the Bossier Parish Library, which has always adapted to changing technologies and changing community needs. Today, we provide a delivery service we call BPL Delivers, offering services to homebound Bossier Parish residents who have a condition restricting their ability to leave their place of residence without assistance.

We also show up in places you love to be, like the Bossier Night Market, Bloom Festival, and other community events. We bring library materials and activities to local community groups such as after-school programs, nursing homes, schools, treatment facilities, and more. Our vision is to support the changing needs of Bossier Parish by re-evaluating community needs and seeking opportunities to enhance user experience.

For the past eighty-one years, the Bossier Parish Library has proudly provided access to various materials, programs, and technologies that enrich, educate, and inspire the residents of this great parish. To learn more about the Bossier Parish Library's history, visit the BPL History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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