Poche’: Parish libraries plan for 50th birthday

Published 12:01 am Saturday, September 24, 2016

St. John the Baptist Parish Library will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with celebrations from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29.

On Thursday/Oct. 27, all branches of the St. John the Baptist Parish Library System will release 50 balloons to commemorate the 50 years, as well as give away cupcakes to the first 50 patrons to enter each building.

On Friday, Oct. 28, the Central Library in LaPlace will host a celebration starting at 6 p.m. The program will consist of past and present library board members, council members and other dignitaries who have supported the library within the past 50 years.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, St. John the Baptist Parish Central Library will host a kid’s celebration, starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 1 p.m. The celebration will consist of games, crafts, food and drinks for children of all ages to enjoy.

All events are opened to the public; all residents of the parish and surrounding areas are invited to come out and enjoy.

Where It All Started…

The Library Board of Control was organized in 1965 by the police jury to employ workers of the library, establish written policy, secure adequate funding, approve budget, provide and maintain: facilities, resources and services, help develop and approve the library’s plan of service, help promote and advocate for the library, and participate in opportunities for continuing education.  The members changed year by year, leaving Mr. Leroy Williams as a member until his earthly departure and Mr. Norris Millet is still an active member on today. Millet has served in a variety of leadership positions and has been on the Library Board for a total of 51 years.

A St. John Parish Library Demonstration Program, which was requested by the St. John Home Demonstration Council, in cooperation with the St. John Parish Police Jury, came into the parish on Oct. 30, 1966. It was sponsored by the Louisiana State Library. This was the start of what is now the St. John the Baptist Parish Library System.

The East Bank Branch was originally housed in the old post office building in LaPlace. The West Bank branch opened on Dec. 3, 1967, in the Bonsecour Benevolent Building in Edgard.

Dianne Couvillon was the first director of the library. Mrs. Couvillon was a native of Georgia, but lived in Metairie when she began her tenure as the director of St. John the Baptist Parish Library in 1966. She held the position until 1968. She resigned the post to join her husband, who was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Friends of the Library were formed in the 1970s. The purpose of the organization was to aid the St. John Public Library in any way and to help bring cultural attractions to the community.

The annual dues began as $1 for students, $3 for adults, $5 for a couple, $25 for a group and $1,000 for lifetime membership. The dues are now $5 for students, $10 for seniors (60+), $20 for avid readers and $30 for a family. The Friends are still highly active in helping the library system in any way possible.

Clarence W. Beasley Jr. was the second director of the library from 1968 to 1980. He was a native of Gainesville, Fla., and was a librarian with the Jacksonville, Fla., school system for many years before accepting this position.

The demonstration library turned into an actual building. The East Bank Library was preparing to be built in the Riverlands Shopping Center on Airline Highway in La Place in 1975. The building was done, along with a new building for the West Bank Library a year later.

Kathleen Rogers was the third director of the library from 1980 to 1986. Rogers began her employment with the library in 1968 and served as assistant librarian before moving up to the administrative librarian position in 1980.

The library system introduced the Bookmobile in the 1980s, which brought the library to the community. Its philosophy was, “If people can’t come to the library, then bring the library to them.” The Bookmobile had shelves on both sides of the empty compartment in the rear and another set of shelves against the rear door. It covered six routes on both sides of the river.

Tax Elections are one of the reasons the libraries have been opened for 50 years. The first tax election was held in 1967; where property owners of the parish voted for or against a $4 million millage for the support and maintenance of the parish library.

The millage was approved and the library has been running successfully since then. As of April of this year, residents of the parish voted yes for the renewal of a 9.94 mills tax for the public library system. The millage will begin in 2018 and continue for 10 years.

Randy DeSoto was the fourth director of the library from 1985 to 2014. DeSoto was an assistant librarian starting in 1985, before replacing Kathleen Rogers as administrative librarian (director) in 1986. The first major project he was involved with was the building of the Garyville Library. The Reserve Branch was then added.

Additionally, De Soto oversaw construction of new buildings for the LaPlace Library and the Edgard Library. Under his leadership, four new buildings were constructed, in addition to an administrative building housing the administrative offices, computer and technical services departments.

On May 31, 2016, Ms. Trina Smith was assigned as the new director of the St. John the Baptist Parish Library System. Ms. Smith has more than 20 years of library experience; working in the San Antonio Library System. She is up for the challenge and looks forward to providing our system with some consistency and new ideas.

There will be a multitude of other programs at each library branch for the month of October. For a full list, please refer to our online calendar on our website or pick up a newsletter at any of our four branches. I hope you all can attend some of the spectacular programs offered at the libraries.

St. John the Baptist Parish Library system thanks everyone for allowing us to operate for 50 years. We’re looking forward to 50 more!

Kearston Poche’ is the administrative services coordinator for St. John the Baptist Parish Library. She can be reached at 985-652-6587.