Dr. Joe Abraham and Joan Wingate are both enthusiastic and tireless supporters of our Lafayette Parish library system. They joined us to discuss their mission to instill a love of reading in our children and families and to emphasize the importance of citizens’ support of our library system so that we can continue to offer free and equal access of materials to all residents, 24/7.
Joe is President of the Lafayette Parish Library Foundation. He’s a physician, research biologist, and the award-winning author of Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation.
Joan has served on the Foundation in various positions, leading ‘Lafayette Loves Libraries,’ as president, and currently serves on the Library Board of Control, the governing body of Lafayette Parish Libraries.
The foundation supplements taxpayer funding of our libraries by encouraging private donations that provide books and services and fund special programs. Its sister organization, Friends of the Library, has raised $1 million over the past 40 years.
With the library being in the news so much, it seemed like a good time to be reminded about the importance of having a viable library system that is accessible to everyone, no matter their age or socioeconomic background.
“It’s important to raise awareness of our public library’s needs and what we can do to support it. In 2002 when the library tax was passed (to support a 20-year plan to build regional branches and refurbish the Main branch), we got busy and focused on building the new sites. We know we also need to educate the public as to the many resources the library offers and the importance of reading. We want to be able to offer free and equal access, 24/7, to all of our resources.” Joan Wingate, photo by Leslie Westbrook of The Advocate.
Lafayette Parish is blessed with an award-winning library system, having received the coveted James O. Modisette Award for Public Libraries in 2020. It is the highest honor that a public library can receive in Louisiana. And its private donors are generous: almost every year, Lafayette is #1 in private donations made through Friends of the Library and the Foundation. Yet, if you compare Lafayette Parish’s library public funding to the other eight metropolitan areas of Louisiana, it is dead last.
The library staff members are efficient and effective in what they do in running its nine branches (four regional, the Main Library, smaller branches, plus the Bookmobile). Per capita, Lafayette sees more of its resources (books, movies, digital materials, etc.) checked out than any other metropolitan area in the state, even compared to New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
People flock to the libraries for all sorts of purposes; they study for exams, get access to the internet, participate in the various programs put on, or reserve meeting rooms that are free for use by the public. On 2022’s opening day of the annual Summer Reading Challenge, approximately 1000 children participated, with pizza being served compliments of the Library Foundation. As Joan says, “The library is truly a safe haven, welcoming people to educate and discover themselves.”
Summer reading programs are designed to encourage students to keep reading during the summer months as a fun and easy way to prevent a decline in reading achievement. With the 2022 Oceans of Possibilities Summer Reading Challenge, all participants have been encouraged to reach a personal goal of 600 minutes and a combined community goal of 2,000,000 minutes read or activities participated in from June 1 to July 31. Prizes are awarded for every 600 minutes of reading and a grand prize will be awarded.
Controversies over the past few years relating to programming displays have resulted in the library being in the middle of a political arena. It has returned to its original mission: a focus on reading and the joy of reading. Book displays now highlight mysteries, summer reading selections, etc.
Joe emphasized the library’s goal of creating a community of people who love books. “It’s such a critical component of developing your imagination. With the innovation economy, the only way to compete is to generate your own innovative ideas. We want to get our local kids ready for the innovation economy so that we can control our own destiny, not be dependent upon outside talent having to come in.”
“As an ER physician, I learned that I can walk up to six-month-old children, look in their eyes, and see if they’ve been read to. They’re engaged, looking around. So I started talking to parents about the importance of reading to their kids. What would happen to our kids, our schools, our universities, and our economy if every parent read to their children? And conversely, think of the positive benefits of lowering crime, poverty, drug use, and all sorts of illicit behavior.”
We thank Joe and Joan for joining Discover Lafayette to discuss their mission to spread the joy of reading and to encourage public support for Lafayette Public Library!
For more information on all the Lafayette Public Library offers, please visit http://lafayettepubliclibrary.org/.