The Rapides Parish Library in the War Years


In November, the Rapides Parish Library will celebrate its 75th anniversary of service to the community. Along the way, the library has brought value, impact and services to cities, towns and villages across Rapides Parish and will continue to promote lifelong learning, enhanced quality of life, and literacy through print, audiovisual and electronic resources.  We will continue to ensure that all our citizens receive maximum value from available informational, educational, cultural and recreational resources.


“No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know, books are weapons.” –Franklin Roosevelt


In this next installment of the history of the Rapides Parish Library, we enter the war years. Central Louisiana was the host to thousands of service men and women with their families as the United States entered the Second World War on December 8, 1941. Training camps opened in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, offering the perfect tropical and sub-tropical temperatures to train and condition service men and women for deployment to the Pacific. There was a high demand for just about everything, and the libraries in Rapides Parish, in particular, were also faced with the demand for reading and research materials. Both the Alexandria Public Library and the parish-wide Louisiana Library Commission opened their doors to servicemen and their families coming to the area. Both libraries were hard-pressed to keep reading materials in their collections for this growing population. The Work Project Administration, or WPA, came to their aid and provided 12,896 books and four WPA workers. The population of the Central Louisiana area was growing so rapidly that, even with the additional books and workers, it would prove difficult to keep up with the demand. In response to fulfill this requirement, additional branches opened to help serve the growing communities.


In March of 1942, the town of Tioga opened a branch to serve both military and non-military attached personnel and their families that settled in the area. In April, a library branch was opened on the Camp Beauregard army training base in Pineville and was staffed by an army officer. In Alexandria, England Air Force Base also had a branch to serve the on-base personnel and their families. In June of 1942, the George Washington Carver branch, located on Casson Street in Alexandria, was the first African-American neighborhood library in the parish.  The Bolton Avenue United Service Organization (USO) Community Center opened a library branch providing books and magazines along with entertainment and other programs to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.


Library circulation and patrons continued to grow and the support for a parish-wide library was overwhelming. The Rapides Parish Police Jury was bombarded with telephone calls and letters to take control from the Louisiana Library Commission for the benefit and betterment of all the people of Rapides Parish. On September 4, 1942, the Rapides Parish Police Jury met to discuss taking over full authority of the library system from the Louisiana Library Commission. Four days later, they voted to ask for a 1 mill tax. An all-out, no-holds-barred 38-day campaign was waged door to door, in homes, businesses, in local newspapers, and on radio. Volunteers supporting the tax came together and pounded the pavement asking for support of a 1 mill tax for 5 years to support the library.


A list of qualified taxpayers in each community was given to local politicians to make sure no voter would go uninformed about the issue. Riding the strength of the war effort, the library put out flyers and brochures of books, magazines and materials they owned on victory gardens, canning, civil defense, etc. and used the tag line “America’s First Line of Defense–A Well-Informed People–Rapides Parish Library–Vote for its Support”.  On November 5, 1942, the ballot for a 1/2 mill for 5-year tax for assisting the Rapides Parish Library was given approval with 492 supporting the tax, and 108 voting against it. On December 17, 1942, the previously appointed Board and Sallie Ferrell, who would go on to become the second Librarian of the State Library of Louisiana, met for the reorganization of system.


Library Factoid: the 1940 Census reported a parish population of 73,370. According to the Rapides Parish Library records from 1942, 135,137 books were circulated, with 47% of that outside of the Alexandria city limits!


For more information on the celebration taking place on November 8th at all our libraries and the Bookmobile, contact your neighborhood branch or call the Rapides Parish Main Library Reference Department at (318) 445-2411 extensions 1034 or 1030.