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Essae M. Culver and the Genesis of Louisiana Parish Libraries

Spreading the Gospel of Books

  • In 1925, Essae Martha Culver, a California librarian, arrived in Louisiana to direct a three-year project funded by the Carnegie Corporation that aimed to introduce public libraries to rural populations. Culver purchased a round-trip ticket, but she never used the second half. Instead, she stayed in Louisiana the rest of her life, working tirelessly to see libraries established in every parish by 1969.


    In Spreading the Gospel of Books, Florence M. Jumonville chronicles the impressive, colorful history of Louisiana parish libraries and the State Library of Louisiana. She draws upon Culver's journals and library reports, in addition to correspondence, scrapbooks, and State Library internal documents, and includes photos from five decades, many never before published. The campaign to persuade individual parishes to financially support a library of their own was a long, uphill pull through poverty and politics, flood and famine, discouragement and depression, war and bureaucracy, ignorance and prejudice. Culver credited the success to the citizens, whose thirst for books and embrace of the idea of a library inspired perseverance.


    In time, Culver's Louisiana plan served as an exemplar of library development elsewhere in the United States as well as abroad. Culver touched the lives of generations of Louisianians who have never heard her name. Spreading the Gospel of Books is her story, along with that of colleagues and supporters, of making the dream of library service come true for all.

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