Billie Stevens: Wonder Librarian

It’s Women’s History month, and a perfect time to look back in our history and share the story of Bossier Parish Libraries’ very own Wonder Woman. Imagine a job ad like this, in the 1950’s: Wanted for Bossier Parish Libraries, a hard worker to perform the following duties: Put buckets under leaks, cut the tops off of large cans and nail them to cover holes in the floor, order books for all the schools in the Parish (in addition to all the public library books), take the bookmobile on unpaved roads to Rocky Mount or Chalybeate Springs, Red Land, Walker’s Chapel, or Mott, get that book mobile out of a ditch as needed, get back to Benton and type all the records of the circulated books and magazines, present children’s story hour, write a book review of the latest gardening book for the parish garden club meetings and home demonstration clubs, paint the walls and shelves, fix the plumbing and mow the grass (unless you want to pay your kid out of your own pocket to do it for you.) Sounds impossible? Though not a real job announcement, those were regular duties for Mrs. Billie Williams Stevens (1928-2017) of Benton, who worked for Bossier Parish Libraries from 1950 to 1984.  

Ms. Stevens was with the library almost from the beginning (the very first librarian was Elizabeth Williams). The library started in 1940 at the urging of the Bossier High School PTA as a demonstration library by the Louisiana Library Commission (now the State Library of Louisiana). It relied on library assistants who were from the Works Progress Administration, which was a federal employment program created by the Franklin Roosevelt administration to pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression. Bossier had never had a public library, although some books were donated to the courthouse for public use. The demonstration library system allowed the parish to experience the benefits of a public library for a year-long trial period. After which the parish would choose to either abandon the program or take over the library by accepting the state’s books and equipment. The Police Jury almost voted unanimously to adopt the library on June 12, 1941.  

Although World War II made the library visible as a “War Information Center,” dedicated funding for the library was thwarted by World War II. It limped along financially until 1947 when it was funded with a tax specifically for the library system. The library branches and locations when Ms. Stevens began her career were in Bossier City, Haughton, Benton, Plain Dealing and Elm Grove, plus a bookmobile. The Bossier City branch was at City Hall sharing space with the city court. The library could not open when court was in session, so the hours varied day-to-day. Library Headquarters, as it was called, was in Benton, in an old storefront. Elm Grove was in a one-room schoolhouse on the Elm Grove school campus, only open during school hours.  

The bookmobile, driven by Ms. Billie, was a very popular service to the parish in the 1950s. In that era, not everyone had cars, or certainly not two in a family. Ms. Billie grew up in the remote north BossierParish community of Wardview and was familiar with traveling for miles on sometimes muddy or washed-out roads. Not everyone had a TV and books were welcomed for entertainment. By the end of the 1960s, the demand for the bookmobile decreased. When the bookmobile broke down in 1968, Billie Stevens remembered, “so many women were going to work, and the new libraries were built and most of them were in distances that children could ride their bicycles.” The bookmobile service was retired then but the bookmobile itself became the parked library branch at Koran Station for several years. 

Bossier Parish Libraries no longer has a bookmobile, but we now have six libraries plus the Central Library and History Center complex.  We also have an outreach service for homebound patrons and places such as assisted living facilities. To see us in person, please visit the History Center at 2206 Beckett St, Bossier City, LA and are open M-Th 9-8, Fri 9-6, and Sat 9-5. Our phone number is (318) 746-7717 and our email is history-center@bossierlibrary. 

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Koran Station branch of the Bossier Parish Library, housed in a red and white bookmobile. The bookmobile was operated from 1957 to Nov. 1967      1997.037.004 

Photo of Billie D. Williams Stevens, obituary, The Times 06 Dec 2017

Article by: Pam Carlisle