The History of Our Library
Assumption Parish, an area of contrasts located fifty miles southwest of Baton Rouge, is the threshold to the vast Atchafalaya Basin. The western part of the parish is a labyrinth of bayous and swamps, providing livelihood to Cajun fishermen and trappers since the 1700s. Because of the isolation of this area, a unique culture has developed. A significant number of the descendants of the original settlers continue to speak French and maintain the customs of their Acadian ancestors.
The economy of the eastern portion of the parish is dominated by modern sugar cane farming which evolved from the plantation system developed along historic Bayou Lafourche. The prosperity of the area in the 19th century attracted a large number of educated, professional people. Through the years the area bordering Bayou Lafourche became the cultural center of the parish.
The first public library in the parish was established in 1900 and was named the Napoleonville Circulating Library. Anyone could become a subscriber by paying the annual fee of two dollars. Volunteers who were members of the organization helped operate the fledgling library. In addition to lending books the library provided a meeting place for local cultural and civic groups. Some library users complained that they were allowed to borrow only one book at a time and after 1912 books were circulated on a rental basis. Annual dues were no longer required. Interest in the library waned about 1910 and it closed several years later.
Several other attempts at establishing a public library in the parish were equally short lived. Interest surfaced again in 1945 and in 1963 for a local state library demonstration project. Unfortunately, the local police jury did not feel that it would be successful and chose not to have the demonstration library established. They considered library service to be a luxury rather than a basic necessity and that the citizenry was not interested in library service. Moreover, there was the question of how the library would be supported after the one year demonstration project ended. Large landowners were opposed to paying a property tax to support a public library because they felt that they would pay the greatest portion in support of something that would be used by only a few.
The persistence of determined individuals and organizations in the parish prevailed and on July 11, 1967, the Assumption Parish Police Jury voted unanimously in favor of opening a library on a trial basis. On May 4, 1968, the demonstration library opened in the old post office building in Napoleonville. Assumption Parish was 63 of the 64 parishes to establish a public library for its citizens.
Funding during the demonstration year was provided by the state. Responsibility for maintaining the new agency would then fall on local government. Since the major landowners in the parish were opposed to an increase in property taxes, the decision was made to finance library services with a sales tax. This proposed tax was for one percent and was to be divided among four entities – the jail, hospital, roads, and library. The division of the tax was not specified and the amounts of allocations were to be determined by the police jury. This proposal received voter approval.
Local officials were surprised at the overwhelming response to the new public library. By the end of the first week of operation the total registration was 27 percent of the entire population of the parish. Those who had felt a library would be an “unnecessary luxury” became loyal supporters of the new parish service.
Two bookmobiles were provided by the state as part of the demonstration project. For years these served the parish schools as well as residents of outlying areas. In response to public demand a branch library was opened in Pierre Part in 1984 in a small rented facility. The next year a building to serve as the administrative headquarters and Napoleonville Branch was constructed and opened. Service to all areas of the parish was proposed in a ten-year plan but full implementation would be delayed.
The parish’s economy declined dramatically in the late 1980s. The library, like other parish agencies, was forced to reduce its operating expenses. In July 1986 the library’s budget was cut by ten percent which made it necessary to discontinue the bookmobiles, reduce staff hours, and eliminate book purchases. The threat of additional revenue reductions brought attention to the need for stable funding that was dedicated to the library. In 1987 two attempts to gain voter approval of a millage dedicated to the library failed. With no other options available the library board made the difficult decision to close the Pierre Part Branch. Citizens from Pierre Part reacted immediately and united in an effort to keep their library open. A delegation from that community addressed the police jury and asked that a proposal for a one fourth percent sales tax dedicated to the library be presented to the voters. This attempt was successful and the parish library now had its own dedicated funding as well as a share of the original sales tax passed in 1968.
With the improved economy and more adequate funding the future began to look much brighter for the library. Staff was added, much needed equipment was acquired, and the book collection increased dramatically. Service was provided to Paincourtvile, Bayou L’ourse, Belle Rose, and Labadieville by bringing the better of the two bookmobiles out of storage. It served as a movable branch until 1991 when the cost of maintenance and repairs was no longer justifiable. The board felt that, as outlined in the ten-year plan, opening of branch libraries was the more desirable type of service.
Patrons from the Labadieville area expressed their interest in having a branch library located in their community. A building in that community was purchased in 1989 but it would be several years before funds were available for renovation of the building and the opening of the branch. This occurred in February 1994.
… continue with us as our story grows.