A move is underway to create a parishwide library system and the Women’s Leadership Council of the St. Landry-Evangeline United Way has voiced its support.
“We are the only parish in the state without a parishwide library system, which is sad,” said Ginger LeCompte, the United Way’s executive director.
The parish is home to many libraries, but most operate as independent libraries. “People need to understand that good libraries that are connected become better libraries,” said Susan Fisher, the United Way’s special projects coordinator.
She said a unified library system allows all the libraries to share exhibits, resources and costs.
“The buying power alone is tremendous,” said Fisher, who pointed to just the cost of connecting to the Internet. “They are each paying the full price now. It would be a lot less if they were part of a shared system. It is like being in a coop,” Fisher said.
The newly formed St. Landry Library Coalition has just announced a proposal to created a unified library system for the parish that it hopes to put before the voters next year.
LeCompte said that dream is one that is shared by the leadership council.
Last year the United Way held a Women’s Leadership Lunch to honor outstanding women in business, professions, civic organizations and more.
LeCompte said 75 women attended and the program was so successful the women wanted to create their own group to help promote the community. And thus, the Women’s Leadership Council was born.
“They realized the power of working together and speaking with one voice,” said LeCompte, who said the group decided to focus on education, health care and economic sustainability.
“The one thing we could all agree on was the need to nurture our children and help them to become the best they could be,” LeCompte said.
“We are not a political group. We advocate for things that will improve our parish,” LeCompte said. “We are about outcomes. We don’t tell politician how to do it, just at the end of the day what it should look like.”
As its first goal, the group sought to bring back the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a free, age-appropriate book each month to a child from birth through first grade to foster a love of reading.
That program began in St. Landry Parish a number of years ago and proved a huge success — too much of a success.
With thousands of children signed up, it eventually outgrew its local resources and collapsed under its own weight.
LeCompte said, with support of the leadership council, it has been reborn.
“It is up and running again. We currently have about 400 to 500 children now. We are targeting it on at-risk children,” LeCompte said.
She called it a wonderful program that has the ability to significantly improve educational outcomes in the parish.
“Studies have shown that even reading to a newborn baby will have a positive effect on their development,” LeCompte said.
She said a parishwide library system is just one more step in the same direction.
“Libraries are a way to help our children have free access to books but they are so much more,” said LeCompte, who said libraries can offer special programming such as weekly storytimes and summer reading programs to get children excited about reading.