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The initial request for a library in DeSoto Parish, as recorded in Louisiana State Library archives, was dated September 14, 1929. Other letters of request were post-marked 1930. A one-mill five-year tax election failed in DeSoto Parish on June 11, 1937. On February 1, 1938, the Police Jury requested that DeSoto Parish be considered for a Demonstration Library. Petitions requesting a library were signed by residents of Benson, Logansport, Frierson, Grand Cane, Keatchie, Longstreet, Gloster, Naborton, Pelican and Stonewall during July and August of 1938. Early in 1941, Miss Essae M. Culver, the Executive Secretary of the Louisiana Library Commission, spoke to a meeting of the Mansfield Rotary Club about a demonstration or trial library.
As a result of Miss Culver’s talk and the efforts of Mr. Claude Roberts and others, the DeSoto Parish Demonstration Library was formally opened in Mansfield City Hall adjacent to the mayor’s office on August 7, 1941. Presiding at the opening ceremony was Mr. J. O. Modisette, Chairman of the Louisiana Library commission.
For the first year the library operated under joint sponsorship of the Louisiana Library Commission, and the DeSoto Parish Police Jury. The state furnished the book collection, the professional staff, the bookmobile, and administrative supplies. The city provided the space rent-free, and furnished lights, water, heat, and telephone service, while the Police Jury appropriated the sum of $800 for maintenance and salary of the driver of the bookmobile. When a shortage of funds slowed the construction of shelves to go into the new library, Frank Hawthorne of Frost Industries, Mansfield, donated lumber to finish the job.
The original staff furnished by the Louisiana Library Commission was Librarian, Miss Mary McFarland of Mansfield and Assistant Librarian, Miss Ursula Crawford of Shreveport; Branch workers were furnished by the SPA under the training and supervision of Miss Lucille Young, Mansfield. The first Board of Control consisted of F. M. Gallaspy, Pelican; Mrs. H. H. Goldsby, Stonewall; R. A.Wagley, Longstreet; O. E. Price, Logansport; Miss Fanny V. Rives, Mansfield, E. P. Griffin, Mansfield; and Miss Mary McFarland, Librarian.
Grand Cane was the first branch, opening August 18, 1941, in the high school building, with the agreement that it would be moved after school opened when a more suitable place could be found. Mrs. Valda B. Howell was the branch custodian.
Stonewall Branch opened in September of 1941, with Julia P. Nelson as branch custodian. Logansport Branch opened September 12, 1941 in the Community Hall. Mrs. Sallie Crawford was branch custodian, working three hours a day at the salary of $10 a month.
Pelican Branch opened on October 9, 1941 with Mrs. Lucia Skinner as the branch custodian. Longstreet Branch opened on October 20, 1941 with Miss Mary E. Harvey as branch custodian.
The bookmobile arrived in September with the stipulation that it not be used until the army maneuvers were over in DeSoto Parish. Its first trip was to Lula and Hunter on October 20, 1941. Ed Smart was the driver with the professional staff serving as workers on the routes. Due to the rubber shortage and the need to conserve tires, the trips were reduced to every other week in 1942.
On March 17, 1942, the Oak Grove Branch opened with Mrs. Gladys Booker as branch custodian. In March 1942, the Mansfield Negro Community Branch also opened with Carrie N. Hatfield, branch custodian. This branch functioned as a separate library and began with an initial collection of books sent from Baton Rouge for that purpose.
Mrs. Campbell recalled the Community Branch, just off the campus of what is now DeSoto Junior High School. A second bookmobile served the black community. Many of the students and teachers from DeSoto High (then both elementary and high school) used the Community Branch extensively. They had puppet shows, story hours and other activities. Sarah A. Crump, current Pelican Branch librarian, fondly remembers her first encounter with DeSoto Parish Library. Mrs. Ola Mae Evans stopped the bookmobile near Sarah’s home and the children gathered around Mrs. Evans under the shade of a huge oak tree and read. According to Mrs. Evans she drove the bookmobile from 1963 to 1969 and Mrs. Eloise Wright drove prior to 1963.
The Mansfield Library was named the Official War Information Center in May 1942. In this capacity the library developed and maintained a comprehensive, up-to-date collection of information on all phases of the national defense program. The library was used extensively by soldiers during maneuvers in DeSoto Parish.
On June 9, 1942, the property owners in the parish voted a one-mill tax for five years to continue library services. On August 8, 1942, the DeSoto Parish Library Demonstration officially became the DeSoto Parish Library. The books, bookmobile and equipment furnished by the State Library Commission were given to the newly established library.
Miss Crawford resigned as Librarian to accept another position and Miss Lucille Young; former WPA Library Supervisor was appointed Head Librarian. She remained in this position until her retirement in 1971.
On September 1, 1942, the Library was moved to its new location in the Jenkins Building on Texas in Mansfield. Lucille Young Campbell helped move books “arm load by arm load across the alley to the Jenkins Building which faces Texas Street, near the Mansfield Theater.” She remembers that she and Miss Crawford came close to being arrested for removing shelves that had been attached to the building. “The door was padlocked and Sheriff Van Austin was waiting there to arrest us one morning.” Mr. Austin understood the situation, talked with the owner, and resolved the problem.
The first bookmobile purchased by the Parish was put into operation in October 1948, with Mrs. Florence T. McKinnon as driver. Thompson Machinery Company, Thibodeaux, converted a school bus body on a Chevrolet chassis. It was replaced on August 4, 1958, with a custom built Gerstenslager bookmobile body on a Ford chassis.
In 1957 the Library moved into a $50,000 building constructed at 104 Crosby on property formerly used by the Mansfield Female College. In 1970 two bookmobiles were in operation and branch libraries were maintained in Grand Cane, Stonewall, Logansport, Longstreet and the East Side of Mansfield.
Mrs. Thomas G. Cooper replaced Mrs. Lucille Young Campbell as Librarian in 1971. All branch libraries were closed except Logansport, as it was determined that the bookmobiles could provide better services at a lower cost. Finances for library operations came from a two-mill assessment on the parish property tax and a portion of the state severance tax. The two-mill ad valorem property tax was not put on the ballot for renewal in 1977.
When inadequate funding was compounded by the loss of the state severance tax, the Police Jury contributed to library funding in 1977 and 1978. Two tax proposals that would have funded the library failed in 1977, and another failed in 1978.
Susan Byra was Librarian when the Board of Control was forced to shut down the Library on December 29, 1978, due to lack of funds. DeSoto Parish held the distinction of being the only parish in the state without a public library system.
Friends of the Library and grass roots citizens groups worked diligently to get a ¼ cent dedicated sales tax passed on May 16, 1981, to reopen the library. Library headquarters reopened in Mansfield on September 15 1981, with Ronald Bausch as Library Director and remodeling and expansion soon began.
A branch library opened in Logansport on November 9, 1981, in the Jack Averett building on Main Street. It moved into the Corner Store at the northwest intersection of Highways 5 and 84.
The bookmobile traveled the parish again from October 1, 1981, until April 1982, when it was put out of service due to needed repairs. Stonewall Branch opened adjacent to the Stonewall Town Hall on January 29, 1983, and the Pelican Branch opened in the back of the Post Office building on August 39, 1983.
March 30, 1984, was the formal ground breaking for the present Mansfield main library headquarters. The $884,000 building built by B. J. Andrews Construction Company of Grand Cane, was dedicated on January 13, 1985. This facility’s lighting design by Morgan, O’Neal, Hill and Sutton, earned a coveted architectural lighting award.
Expansion and modernization continued when the Library appointed Mrs. Wanda A. Berry, Stonewall, Director in 1987. All of the branches were expanded and the buildings are now owned by the library instead of being leased. Stonewall Branch moved from one room into the entire former Stonewall Town Hall building, the old library room now serves as a meeting room. Pelican Branch also a one-room library moved into the Pelican State Bank Building during the summer of 1990. A LSCA $75,000 matching grant helped to fund the renovation and addition at the Logansport Branch in 1993. Computers are now available at all locations of DeSoto Parish Library.
A 7.5 millage failed in July 2001, and in November 2002 a 3-mil tax passed to fund additional operating expenses and the building of new facilities at Pelican and Stonewall. March 2007 will see new Pelican and Stonewall Branch libraries. Wanda A. Berry retired effective April 1, 2007.
Wanda A. Berry
February 15, 2007