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History of Rhymes Memorial Library

Antique Day brings old-fashioned fun to parish
By Darryl Riser and written by Lilwin Norman
Created 03/23/2011

The Lambda Kappa Club of Rayville is 100 years old this year and is joining in a celebration with the Rhymes Memorial Library with a one-day event on April 2. The event is called Antique Day and will be a fund raiser for the Rhymes Memorial Library.The celebration will include classic cars and antique tractors, a motorcycle display, a cake walk, a toy walk for kids, entertainment and Southern Gospel music as well as a quilt display and hamburgers cooked on the grill.

Lambda Kappa took the lead in obtaining Richland Parish’s first library, helping to create the first rural parish library in the state and has been a staunch supporter since the first day it opened.

This day of fun will recall those “good ole days” when entertainment was simple and everyone came together to to socialize and support one another’s efforts. Come and celebrate this bit of history with us and support us with your attendance and participation.

The following history, written by Lilwin Norman, Lambda Kappa member and executive committee member of Rhymes Memorial Library, relates the history of the library and the efforts of Lambda Kappa on its behalf.

Rhymes Memorial Library

Rhymes Memorial Library

As early as 1915 the Lambda Kappa Club of Rayville, a women’s civic and cultural club, saw visions of library service in Richland Parish.

This organization got permission from the Richland Parish School Board to let members of the club keep the school library open to the public during the summer months. After several summers, the enthusiasm of local citizens prompted the club in 1924 to ask the school board for use of a room at the Rayville school to be used as a town library.

In 1925, the State of Louisiana received a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation of New York. These funds were dedicated for the development of public libraries in the state. In 1925, no rural parish in the state had a public library system. A few city libraries existed, and one city library was also a parish library (Orleans Parish), but the rest of the state had no parish library service.

The first parish library in Louisiana – that is a distinction the Rhymes Memorial Library proudly claims. Because the Lambda Kappa Club of Rayville was already maintaining a small town library (using untrained, volunteer services of club members), energetic members of this club quickly applied to the Louisiana Library Commission, administrators of the Carnegie Funds, for participation in the project. The commission, headed by Miss Essae Culver, executive secretary and director, responded enthusiastically and set criteria for the parish to meet.

The parish was required to initiate four steps:

• First, to organize a supporting group;

• Second, to demonstrate that one system would serve the entire parish and would be supported by all sections;

• Third, to gain support from the public governing body (the police jury); and

• Fourth, to employ an acceptable full-time librarian.

Parish residents responded eagerly. The first Richland Parish Library Association was established in December, 1925, with the following officers elected: Mrs. C.J. Ellis Jr., president; H.B. Chambers, vice-president for Mangham; Mrs. Frank Sartor, vice-president for Alto; Mr. J.W. Wynn, vice-president for Start and Crew Lake; Dr. C.C. Thompson, vice-president for Delhi; Mrs. J.W. Summerlin, secretary; and Mrs. John C. Calhoun, treasurer.

The interest and cooperation of the police jury, a third requirement, was demonstrated on March 2, 1926, when members passed a required ordinance establishing the Richland Parish Library and naming a board of control. The Police Jury also cooperated in achieving the final requirement by agreeing to provide a libarian’s salary and by accepting the offer of Mrs. Pendleton S. Morris to take the state’s summer course, “and to accept a very small salary.” Members of this historic police jury included Carl W. Earle, John R. Golson, John M. Ferguson, R.L. Binion, D.R. Chapman, H.B. Chambers and J.M. Hatch with J.C. Salmon, clerk.

Rent-free quarters in the wooden Rayville School building located on Madeline Street were granted by the Richland Parish School Board. The Louisiana Library Commission, for the Carnegie Foundation, pledged 1,000 new books to be delivered ready for circulation. The Richland Parish library then officially began in April 1926.

The library, formerly in use on a restricted schedule, went into full-time operation by immediately opening for a six-day week. Branch libraries were set up in country stores sad in private homes all over the parish.

It is almost unbelievable to discover that the whole Richland Parish library system was established a capital base of $1,479.08. The sources of the funds were Rayville Town Council, $100; Police Jury, $500; and $879.08 from benefits, cake walks, etc. These funds had been accumulated through the efforts of the Lambda Kappa Club and the new Richland Parish Library Association.

The continued enthusiasm of the public helped this library weather various financial problems through 1926. In the following year, however, a different problem affected the library, the Flood of 1927.

Few stories of library service under difficulties are more thrilling than that of this library during the flood. Not to be daunted by surmountable difficulties, the librarian, Mrs. Pendleton Morris, a grandmother, and whose salary was $75 per month, donned high boots, obtained a boat, and each day waded and paddled to get to the library in order that no one who came for books would be disappointed.

The records showed circulation of about 60 books per day, including service to young boys who paddled in to get adventure stories as well as to other boat passenger’s who took away books to supply not only all members of the family, but usually the neighbors as well

The library achieved another first in 1927 – a building of its own – when the memorial building was given by Mr. R.R. Rhymes in memory of his first wife, Mrs. Nonnie Roark Rhymes.

On May 4, 1928, the brand new brick building at 206 South Louisa Street was dedicated. Thus the first rural parish library system also became “The first parish library in the State, outside of Orleans Parish, to be housed in its own building with its own furniture and equipment.” This little building immediately stepped into history.

The Depression years were hard for the library. Miss Ruth Whatley, the second parish librarian, struggled to keep the system going from 1930 through 1934. During 1935, conditions threatened closure of all services. The state library came to the rescue, providing financial support to continue operation for that year and supervising necessary reorganization.

The state library that year provided the services of two trained librarians, the addition of several thousand books and the loan of a bookmobile. Back on its feet in 1936, the library board was able to employ the parish’s first professional librarian, Miss Laura Baker, graduate of the University of Illinois Library School.

The first book route in the parish was started Wednesday afternoon, June 16. After the bookmobile, loaned by the state, had to be returned, a second-hand sedan was used. In 1953, Richland Parish bought its own bookmobile. Delivery service to residents all over the parish continued through 1980. The library continues delivery services to homebound residents.

The original building, which had to be enlarged in 1948 and again in 1953 served as headquarters for the parish system until voters provided funds for a new building, completed in 1971.

As evidence of the quality of service given to the Richland Parish Library, the Louisiana Library Association has twice chosen Richland trustees as recipients of the Modisette Award, an annual recognition of the state’s outstanding library trustee. Mrs. R.R. Rhymes was honored in 1962 and Mrs. W.D. Cotton in 1972.

In 1989, an organization called The Original Richland Library Restoration Society, was formed to restore this library. The ORLRS mission is as follows: The Original Richland Library Restoration Society Inc., operates for the purpose of maintaining the Restored Rhymes Memorial Library and overseeing usage of the facility so that it serves me community through activities that enhance the cultural background, enrich the artistic interests, and promote community pride of the people of Richland Parish.

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