Our library has a unique history. This summary will give the reader some concept as to why it is has been called the Miracle Library.
Until 1993 our community had no tax-supported Public Library. Our Parish, St. Landry, is the only Parish in the State of Louisiana without a parish-wide library system. There were a number of attempts over the years to provide some sort of library service. At one time the Women’s Club of Sunset had a small lending library which they used to circulate books among themselves. Sometimes in summer school libraries were open to students. And then in the 1960’s the State Library of Louisiana, whose charter at the time was to establish a parish system in all parishes of the State, operated the Opelousas library for a year as a parish library, including bookmobile service to the rest of the parish. However, at the end of the year, when a vote was taken to provide a parish tax to support this library, the issue was defeated.
A number of people in Ward 2 had discussed various ways to provide library service. In 1988 Mrs. Julie Olivier and Mrs. Ellen Broussard had serious discussions and decided to call a meeting of interested parties. A meeting was held at the Sunset Town Hall on June 15 with interested people from throughout the community in attendance. A committee was formed, with Mrs. Jane LeBlanc as Chairperson, to suggest how we might organize a library. At this time, there were no funds, no books, no building nor even a name, just a desire! By August, the committee had drawn up Articles of Incorporation and by-laws and the entity was incorporated as Ward 2 Public Library Association, Inc. Membership and dues were established. Mayor John and Julie Olivier donated the use of a small (600 square feet) house. Volunteers cleaned, scrubbed, built shelves, gathered donated books and equipment and the little library was in business. A grand opening was held on Jan. 28, 1989 with over 100 members in attendance. The library was open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings, staffed by volunteers.
While the small library was an instant success, it was quickly realized that it was not adequate to serve the need. The Board believed we would have to get some tax support to provide a larger building, additional books and at least a part-time professional librarian. A meeting was set up by Jane LeBlanc with Parish and State officials and it was decided to ask the State Legislature to create a library district in what was then Police Jury District 8 which included most of Ward 2. Senator Armand Brinkhaus, supported by Representative Raymond LaLonde, introduced a bill in the 1990 legislature to establish the South St. Landry Community Library District, with taxing powers and to be governed by a seven-person Board of Commissioners, four to be appointed by the police jury and one each by the Mayors of Sunset, Grand Coteau and Cankton.
This Board was appointed in April, 1991. Meanwhile, the little Ward 2 Library, now renamed the South St. Landry Community Library, continued in business with its own Board and its enthusiastic corps of volunteers. While the new Board set about the business of a tax election, lining up potential sites, etc., the old Board set out in earnest to beg books from all over the State! A tax election was held in Nov. 1991 and, contrary to most predictions, the measure passed! Tax funds would not be available to the Library until the end of 1992 so that year was spent in preparation. A 5000 square-foot building formerly used for classrooms at the old Sunset High was identified and bonds backed by a portion of tax revenue were issued to fund the purchase and renovation of the building. Meanwhile, the book collecting effort spearheaded by Mr. Jim Darby resulted in nearly 40,000 volumes! Many of these were old, in disrepair or otherwise unusable but our loyal volunteers began the task of going through a literal mountain of books stacked in the soon-to-be library building. Beginning in the early fall of 1992, they went through these books one by one amid clouds of dust and in the early fall heat without benefit of air conditioning. Ultimately 10,000 very useful books were culled out of this pile and became the foundation of the new library.
Renovation by a professional contractor supplemented by volunteer assistance in painting and shelf building began in January 1993. A part-time librarian, Mrs. Elizabeth Pellerin, who was a retired school librarian, was hired and by May the library was in operation. Meanwhile, we had been receiving all kinds of moral support and physical (but not monetary!) help from the people at the State Library who thought at first we couldn’t succeed but who got caught up in our enthusiasm. They first said it would be a miracle if we could pull it off and when it became apparent that we would they dubbed it the “Miracle Library”! A Grand Opening was held on June 19 with State Librarian Tom Jaques and members of his staff present along with then Lt. Governor Melinda Schwegman who was our principal speaker. In spite of torrential rain, the library was full of local people who turned out to give their support. John and Julie Olivier were made Life Members of the Library Association (now Friends of the Library) for their generous donation of the use of the first little building.
Since that small start, our library has continued to grow. With some increase in tax income, frugal money management, and, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Mrs. Elizabeth Pellerin, Mrs. Golda Jordan, and Ms. Barbara Malbrue we are now open Tuesday through Saturday, closed on Sunday and Monday. Our original Library Director, Mrs. Elizabeth Pellerin, retired in October, 1999 and was replaced by Mrs. Golda B. Jordan. Mrs. Jordan retired in 2004 and was replaced by our present Director Barbara Malbrue. The library now has over 34,000 volumes, many new and up-to-date.
We are completely automated (including an online card catalog) and have a total of twenty computers on our network, all but four of which are available for patron use, including Internet access. It is a busy place, especially after school each day. The library staff, assisted by volunteers, has established many useful programs which serve the whole community but with emphasis on the children. Our Summer Program for children and our Family Reading Program (Prime Time) are equal to or better than any in the State. Our original support group who founded the “little library” is now officially Friends of the Library and many of the original volunteers continue to assist along with new ones who have joined us. The library has truly become the community center envisioned by Jane LeBlanc and her group back in 1988. The Miracle continues!!