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Cheers to 75 Years! Lafayette Public Library Celebrates Anniversary

The Lafayette Public Library is celebrating 75 years of serving Lafayette Parish this year! On Tuesday, August 6, 1946, the parish library opened its doors. The State of Louisiana delivered 11,148 books to the building. It proved to be much needed and circulation swelled to over 76,000.

In 1946, the world was looking forward to the dawn of a new day after the end of World War II. In this year, the United Nations held its first meeting in London, UNICEF was created, the first Cannes Film Festival was held, It’s a Wonderful Life premiered In New York, and both Tupperware and the bikini were introduced. Additionally, the first US rocket to leave Earth’s atmosphere attained 50 miles of altitude! The sky no longer seemed the limit for Americans who had long dreamed about space, rockets, and stars thanks to science fiction books such as Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

Locally, businesses such as Fisher Early Childhood Development and Lafayette Wood-Works were established, and Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn became Lafayette’s first completely air-conditioned restaurant. In this same year, it was decided that Lafayette’s old Southside School building would become the new space for a state-funded parish library. The state of Louisiana delivered 11,148 books to the building, and on August 6, 1946, under the direction of Lucille Arceneaux (1946—1982), the Lafayette Parish Library opened its doors. That means that the Lafayette Public Library is older than Judice Inn!

Click here to view The Daily Advertiser’s articles from our August 6, 1946 opening ceremony.

By 1953, the parish library had expanded to include ten (10) locations along with a bookmobile program and boasted a collection of over 38,000 volumes. On March 29th of that year, the first stand-alone public library building on the corner of Lee and Main Streets opened to the public.

Through the years, the library system adapted to meet the needs of an ever-changing community. Under the guidance of Library Director Sonya M. Branch (1982—1998), the library saw the beginnings of a Young Adult department and developed outreach programs for teens, schools, and prisons. On April 16, 1996, the library initiated an online public access catalog which rendered the card catalog obsolete.

During Library Director Gail Smith’s tenure (1998—2005), the library system was boosted into the world of technology thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, allowing free public access computing at all library locations. This was the first time the library could offer patrons free access to mega-databases.

In 2002, the goal was to have library services available within a 3.5-mile radius of all Lafayette Parish residents. Voters passed a $40 million bond issue to make that happen, and ground breaking for regional libraries began in Carencro in October 2005, with Sona Dombourian (2005—2016) at the helm. The 12,564 square-foot North Regional Library opened to the public in September 2007.

With that, the major Lafayette Public Library expansion had begun! South Regional Library opened in 2009, the Main Library received much-needed renovations from 2012 to 2015, East Regional Library in Youngsville opened in 2015, and Library Director Teresa Elberson (2016—2021) oversaw the construction and opening of the West Regional Library in Scott in 2019. Seeing a need for mobile outreach services, the system introduced the pedal-powered BiblioBike in 2018, and the GoGo Biblio Bookmobile in 2019, reintroducing the service to Lafayette Parish after 25 years.

In 2020, all in-person programming along with many services were temporarily suspended for the safety of patrons and the library staff due to the COVID pandemic. This brought on a whole new set of challenges that the Lafayette Public Library met and exceeded by quickly going virtual. The library relaunched its YouTube channel to feature crafts, programs, and more; Zoom was utilized for book clubs and guest speakers; social media hosted digital story times, trivia, and clubs; and take-home kits, including Grab & Go Crafts, American Girl Club, and our early literacy program called Read to Me Book Club, have been and continue to be successful. In this same year, the Lafayette Public Library was the recipient of the James O. Modisette Award, the highest honor a public library in Louisiana can receive, for the efforts to improve patron services.

In 1946, the average cost of a new house was $5,600, the average salary was $2,500, a gallon of gas was 15 cents, and a new car cost about $1,120. A lot has changed in 75 years, but one thing remains the same: the dedication of the Lafayette Public Library to enhance the quality of life of our community by providing free and equal access to high-quality, cost-effective library services that meet the needs and expectations of our diverse community for information, life-long learning, recreation, and cultural enrichment.

Thank you, Lafayette Parish, for allowing us to be a part of your community for 75 wonderful years. We look forward to growing and evolving with you throughout the next 75 years!

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