When Argiro Morgan was growing up in New Orleans, she walked every week from her family home in the Faubourg St. John all the way to the public library near Warren Easton High School on Canal Street.
It was a long walk for a young girl, but Morgan, now in her 80s, was on a mission. Literature allowed her to explore unforeseen worlds as a child, and as an adult, it provided a decades-long career in teaching.
“The library was a fairy tale to me when I was young,” she said. “I read all the Andrew Lang Fairy Books and all the folk tales I could find. That was the same material I taught at Xavier (University) in New Orleans for years — 'Mother Goose,' 'Hansel and Gretel,' The Brothers Grimm.
“My classes in children’s literature were not ‘kiddie lit.’ it was an introduction to not just Western civilization, but world civilization.”
When Morgan retired from the classroom, it was only natural that she gravitated back to libraries. She was as comfortable there among the stacks as she was teaching children’s literature to her students through the years.
“Libraries are so much more than warehouses of books,” she said. “They’re institutions of learning.”
Morgan is as involved as ever with the libraries she loves. She is the vice president of the St. Tammany Parish Library Board of Control. She also serves as a board member on the nonprofit St. Tammany Library Foundation and on the State Library of Louisiana Board of Commissioners.
“No one I know is as dedicated to the library system and advancing it,” said Rebecca Taylor, president of the parish library board. “Her leadership and her dedication are incredible.”
Service to Louisiana libraries and the people they serve is paramount for Morgan. But just as impressive, Taylor said, is Morgan’s work ethic.
“She works tirelessly for our libraries,” she said. “It really is her passion.”
And it all sprang, Morgan said, from a thirst for knowledge quenched by the libraries of her childhood. She graduated at the top of her class at John McDonogh High School before it was coed or integrated, and she was valedictorian of her graduating class at LSU, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. She also earned a master’s degree in English education at LSU-NO and took a break from teaching at Xavier to get her doctorate from UNO.
Morgan ran the Children’s House Montessori School in New Orleans, which, she said, was an integrated school before the civil rights movement. Her work with that institution led her to a 32-year stay (1967-1999) at Xavier University, where she was honored with the Bush Excellence in Teaching Award.
In her 60s, she received a master’s of theology studies from the University of Dallas and later taught medical ethics at Holy Cross College on the West Bank.
Morgan retired from teaching after Hurricane Katrina, and that’s when her involvement with St. Tammany libraries really grew. In 2014, she was honored with the American Library Association National Trustee of the Year Award at the ALA Convention in Las Vegas — an honor reserved for the finest contributor from about 60,000 people serving on library boards across the U.S.
In a lifetime of achievement, Morgan said she is proudest of two things — helping increase the number of children’s books in St. Tammany libraries and making sure the branches in south Slidell and Madisonville were rebuilt after Katrina.
“I worked hard to get the permission of the state to allow us to use our savings for capital projects,” Morgan said. “We couldn’t do that before. ... With the Madisonville library, we wanted everyone in the community to see what a new library looks like. It’s a model library.”
St. Tammany’s 12 libraries continue to flourish, and Morgan’s involvement with both the parish library foundation and the board of control is a key reason why.
The Covington branch is about to undergo a complete overhaul (the first in the building's history) and the library administration is moving to rented space nearby. Morgan also is part of the committee actively seeking the next full-time director of the St. Tammany Parish Library System.
At an age when many peers have slowed down, Morgan continues to advocate for libraries and their patrons.
“The library right now is as incredible a resource as they come, and it’s there for everyone,” she said. “Education is for all. It’s the great uniter — or at least it should be.”