History of the Ouachita Parish Public Library
Known today as one of the best libraries in the state of Louisiana, Ouachita Parish Public Library began modestly in a one-room building with a budget of $50.00 per month. It has evolved into a seven branch system with a $4.5 million budget. To make such a phenomenal growth in only 84 years, the people associated with the library over the years had to have worked very diligently toward that goal.
The first mention of a library in Monroe was in late 1884. A letter to the editor of the Monroe Bulletin (August 27, 1884) from Mr. Ralph H. Prosser relates the progress of the Public Library Association:
"In the middle of last April, a meeting of the Board of Directors was held at the office of Messrs. Millsaps & Sholars, Mr. Franklin Garrett presided. At this meeting, among other committees, one was appointed, of which I was chairman, to solicit contributions for repairs of the building and the necessary preparation of it for books."
It was reported that $125 had been raised in subscriptions, of which $25 was paid to Judge Gunby for furniture. It was also reported that $200 was needed to buy books, repair the building and buy shelves. We can find no more mention of the library until 1913.
In early 1913, the Twentieth Century Book Club issued invitations to various clubs and organizations to meet for the "purpose of obtaining a public library." An association was formed to study the matter and on May 12, 1913, the Library Association met with a large number present. The main accomplishment of this meeting was to establish the fact that a library was needed and desired by the citizens of Monroe. No records of further action by this particular association have been found.
Judge A. A. Gunby was so interested in the library movement that he searched the archives of the City in 1915, and found the will of Mrs. Louise L. McGuire, who had bequeathed to Monroe a little one-room building on Wood Street, opposite the Court House, with the "hope" that it would someday be used for a library. The building had been used for storage and to store coal, so it needed lots of repairs. Charter memberships were solicited and the building was repaired. A book shower was held and citizens were asked to bring books or money for the new library. Now all that remained was to hire a librarian to manage the library.
On April 4, 1916, the following telegram was sent to Mrs. Sadler of the Civic League:
"Trained experienced librarian, Miss Alice Gillam, Owensboro, Ky. arrives Monday."
The Monroe Public Library opened May 8, 1916 with 731 books. Library hours were from 3 to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday.
By the end of the 1910's, the library had outgrown the little one-room building on Wood Street, but had no money to move and no where to move to. Mrs. Anna Ruth Meyer died in 1920 leaving a gift that guaranteed the continued success of the library, Her will states,
"I leave my home on Jackson Street at the corner of Calypso together with all improvements for the purpose of being used for a free public library for all, especially for the poor of Monroe."
She also left $20,000, which was to be operating costs for several years. Mrs. Meyer left a provision in her will that if the home ever ceased to be used as a library, it was to be torn down.
The library moved to this location on January 28, 1921. The new library had a spacious reading and reference room, a club room, circulation room which also housed the fiction and children's collections, and work rooms.
In 1924, the Board of Control reorganized the library and changed the name from Monroe Public Library to Ouachita Parish Public Library. The library continued to grow under this reorganization plan, and the first branch of the library was opened in West Monroe at 307 Wood Street, October 8, 1941. Less than ten years later, the West Monroe Branch outgrew it's location and moved to a newly remodeled building on the corner of Cypress and Natchitoches.
In the next fifty years the library grew by leaps and bounds and new branches were added as needed:
The history continues.......................
*Thank you to Vivian McCain for some of the information used on this page.*
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