New library open in Winnfield

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher

Walking into the foyer of the brand-new Winn Parish Library in Winnfield, you can see and touch the history, pictured on the huge mural collage of photographs of iconic regional scenes from the past and present which covers an entire wall of the welcoming entry hall. You anticipate the modern, in the computer stations and spacious stacks of books stretching down the long corridors, the end almost out of view, and smell the "new," like the first opening of a bright new car--a sensory welcome anticipating long years of pleasurable usefulness. And you share the pride of Library Director Mary Doherty who keeps on leading you through new features of this physical edifice memorializing the dreams of so many--those now present and many no longer alive--over so many years, now present in this masterpiece of design and execution.

The statistics are impressive: $2.5 million investment, 11,000 square feet, 75,000-plus books, 420 periodicals on tap, 16 state-of-the-art computer stations, plus a number of endowed memorial facilities for children, genealogy and history buffs, special needs citizens, access to on-line higher education studies, and more--but simply being there is pleasurable to one who loves books, print, photography, history, and the memory of how far this institution has come during one lifetime--mine.

Public libraries in Louisiana trace their beginnings to the year 1920, when the Legislature created the Louisiana Library Commission, a forerunner to the State Library of Louisiana. In 1925, the Library Commission joined with the Carnegie Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to create a network of local libraries across the state. The Foundation was endowed by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish born industrialist who made a fortune in America investing in railroads and other industries. He founded Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh, and later sold it to J.P. Morgan, creating U.S. Steel, for $480 million the equivalent in today's dollars of $4.76 billion. He spent the rest of his life endowing numerous philanthropic enterprises, and concentrated on local libraries.

With the "Demonstration libraries" system, Louisiana today has public libraries in all 64 parishes. A few still maintain the "Carnegie Library" designation in their titles. The Louisiana State Library today provides access to more than 11 million items through its own collection, and electronic resources combined with the statewide lending network of the local public libraries.

Winn Parish, Louisiana, noted for politics and its productive pine forests, was one of three North Central Louisiana parishes picked as the site of the first tri-parish demonstration library system in the United States.

The year was 1937, and the project, including Winn, Jackson, and Grant Parishes. was financed jointly by the Louisiana Library Commission (now the Louisiana State Library), and the Louisiana State Board of Education.

Under the terms of the Demonstration, the State Library Commission furnished books and paid costs, in cooperation with the State Board of Education, for operation of the local library for one year.

The Winn library, which operated in the old bank building on Main street, was officially opened in dedication ceremonies on June 12, 1937, during the administration of Governor of Richard Leche, and Lt. Governor Earl K. Long. The original one-year "demonstration" period actually ran to three years, and Winn was the first of the three parishes to vote a tax millage to take over the library as a public, locally supported institution. On April 16, 1940, property owners in Winn voted overwhelmingly in favor of a three-mill library maintenance tax in an election called by the Winn Parish Police Jury.

After World War II, the library was moved to a wooden building on Main street, one block west of the Parish Court House, a facility converted from a former military building from one of the Army training camps in the State.

That building served until 1954, when during the administration of local Library Director, Miss Ruby Hanks, the more modern brick building was erected on the same location. And now sixty years later Winn library users will enjoy the enlarged space and expanded amenities of the brand new facility at 200 North St. John Street, two blocks from the old location at the corner of Main and St. John.

The Winn Parish Library system also includes branches in the organized communities of Atlanta, Calvin, Dodson, and Sikes, with a total collection of almost 80,000 books. It is maintained by an eight mill property tax. Construction of the new main Library is funded by a parish-wide $2 million bond issue approved by voters in 2012, which was supplemented by reserve funds accumulated during the years of operations.

Among the new and/or enlarged amenities:
The computer department is expanded from eight stations at the Main Street facility, to 16 carrels equipped with modern state-of-the-art desktops. In addition to Internet service and other personal computer uses, the computer facility is available to students taking on-line college courses at Northwestern State University, including the ability to take tests on-line. Job hunters are able to file on-line with potential employers.

With 410 subscriptions, the special periodicals room contains current editions plus up to a year's back numbers, of a variety of magazines, special journals, regional and national newspapers.

The Joyce Love Allen Stare Memorial Reading Room is a special children's library, endowed with grants from the family foundation, by descendants of the late Governor O.K. Allen of Winnfield.

The Genealogy Room, which also serves as a meeting room for the library board, contains books, family histories, and census records "from forever," according to Mrs. Doherty. In the center of the room is a massive solid white oak table made at the Louisiana Prison Enterprises at Angola State Prison, that was funded by the family of the late Harley B. Bozeman, a friend and patron of the Library who wrote extensively on local history during his lifetime. The table (see photograph) is surrounded by matching chairs, four of which contains a small plaque on the back panel the name of past Library Board members, who shared the dream of a new library "someday," which turns out to be "today." The plaques honor the service of Mrs. Marcia Williamson, Mr. Gene Turner, Mr. Denton Shell, and Mrs. Katherine Hobdy.

Immediately adjacent to the Genealogy room, is a small, neat room, isolated from the regular passages through the larger building. It contains a round table, and chairs for up to four, where special tutors and counselors may assist residents who can't read, or have other special needs. Mrs. Doherty reminds that there are still adults in the area who cannot read, and invites them to visit where they can be tutored in privacy and confidence.

There is one feature of the building that you won't notice until you look up--way up, toward the high-rising ceilings, which at a glance look like the bright sunlight of a cloudless summer day. The interior is ceiled with beautiful southern yellow pine, which adds a softness to the fluorescent lighting, for a daylight glow throughout the building.

My visit was a preview of the Grand Opening, held on Wednesday, October 29, which I regretfully had to miss because of work obligations in production and delivery of this edition of The Piney Woods Journal. To those who also missed the event, I have a recommendation: Go there. You'll want to make it a habit. I know I will.

Winn Library staff at the service sesk of the newly opened facility in Winnfield.From left: Priscilla Massey, cataboger; Kayla Reed, Library assistant; Lori Spangler, Children's Librarian; Mary Doherty, Director; Scarlette Golden, Assistant director; Valerie Frisby, Jeanie May, & Kristi Baxley, Library assistants.

Photographic mural covers wall of entry foyer

Bronze plaque lists officials, board members involved in
new Library development

Solid White Oak board rom table domated in memory of the late Harley B. Bozeman, local historian and Library patron.