BOOK IT! St. John Parish Library System turning 50

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

LAPLACE — It was 50 years ago this month when the St. John the Baptist Parish Police Jury first petitioned State Librarian Sally Farrell for the funds to open a local library.

Before that, all the residents had was a single room library, located in what was then the hub of the parish — Garyville.

Norris “Butch” Millet, a longtime teacher and administrator at Leon Godchaux High School in Reserve, who would be appointed to the first St. John Library board, remembers not everyone being on board with the idea.

The St. John the Baptist Central Library unveiled $500,000 in renovations in 2014, including children’s space ‘the book bayou.’

The St. John the Baptist Central Library unveiled $500,000 in renovations in 2014, including children’s space ‘the book bayou.’

“Oh there were a few hard-heads,” Millet said. “Somebody said, ‘If I want to go to a library, I’ll just go to the school.’ There were some who said, ‘You’ll never make it.’”

Fortunately for the residents of the parish, cooler heads prevailed.

This month the St. John Parish Library is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a three-day event that not only will mark the occasion, but send the establishment into its next half century.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, all branches of the library will hold a simultaneous balloon release at 4 p.m. The first 50 patrons at each branch also will enjoy cupcakes.

The ordnance, pictured, officially dedicates a St. John Parish Public Library 50 years ago.

The ordnance, pictured, officially dedicates a St. John Parish Public Library 50 years ago.

On Friday, Oct. 28 at 6 p.m., a ceremony with public officials will be held at the Main Branch of the library, located at 2920 U.S. 51 in LaPlace. There will be food, music and a historical exhibit with rooms decorated from the various decades. In addition, patrons will be able to receive a limited number of commemorative library cards. Anyone who receives one of the special cards that day also will have all their fines expunged.

Saturday, Oct. 29 is Kids’ Day, with food, music, crafts and an outdoor game truck.

The theme of the event is, “From the printed page to the digital age.”

L’OBSERVATEUR readers will be able to keep up with library events by checking Page A2 each Saturday for a list of activities.

People like Millet have witnessed the amazing growth of the local library system, which grew from the tiny room in Garyville, to the tiny room in Edgard, to a small room in the Percy Hebert Building, to the room in the old Clement’s Supermarket on Main Street, to the big library on Airline Highway (the current location of Dunkin’ Donuts) to the $2.7 million building on U.S. 51.

The state-of-the-art main library building, which opened in 2002 and underwent extensive interior renovations in 2014, offers the latest in technology, including traditional books, ebooks and audio books.

“We have really kept up with technology,” said assistant librarian Tammy Houston, who has served for 26 years. “That’s a big part of our success.”

There also are branches in Reserve, Edgard and Garyville.

Trina Smith, who was hired to be the new library director in June, grew up in LaPlace and remembers the days when her mother used to take her to storytime at the library.

“It actually is what led me to be a children’s librarian,” she said.

Upon her return from Texas, where she was director of a library system, Smith said she was pleasantly surprised to find the system so up-to-date.

“Coming from a larger system in another state, I found it had just about everything to offer patrons,” Smith said.

“It actually was ahead of the curve in some things.”

Millet has seen it all.

After getting a 4 mil tax passed to fund the project, the parish was able to construct a “Demonstration” library — a temporary library — in the parish seat of Edgard, under the watch of librarian Diane Couvillion.

Continued tax renewals by the public have allowed the library to continue to grow to meet the needs of the parish.

“I think people realize we provide a service,” Houston said. “Obviously they think we’re doing a good job. We haven’t wasted their money.”

Much of the library’s growth took place under former parish librarian Randy DeSoto, who spent 28 years at the helm. It was DeSoto who envisioned the current library building and its location on U.S. 51.

“He had a vision,” Houston said. “He knew what the parish needed. He knew what the people wanted and he really got it done.”

Millet, now 82 and the oldest surviving original board member, is proud of what the library has become.

“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “Yes, we’ve come a long way. The people really use it.”