Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo

The Eclectic World of New Orleans' Libraries

16:00 June 30, 2015
By: James Riley

Libraries in America have traditionally served communities as book loan programs, subsidized by the government. One could read magazines and newspapers for free, and borrow first books, and later movies, for the nominal fee of a library card. Increasingly however, libraries are providing services that extend beyond lending books and a quiet place to read them. Libraries are more and more becoming gathering centers for the surrounding community, offering a myriad of programs for all ages, educational levels, and interests. In the New Orleans Public Libraries, programs range from jewelry making, beer tasting, and genealogical research, to adult literacy, career workshops, and programs which award students for reading during the summer. The librarian of old, shushing anyone speaking above a whisper has been replaced with employees who interact with the community, learning what is needed by patrons, and creating programs to fulfill these needs.

The New Orleans Public Library system is a fascinating collection of both old and new. Traditional libraries can be found in several locations throughout the city, while the newer libraries, built since Katrina,  are trending towards more computer space and fewer bookshelves. Any of the millions of volumes the library system owns can be requested to be delivered to any of the fourteen branches. Similarly, volumes you check out can be returned to any of the locations. This allows the same access to books as the shelf packed mazes of old, while providing more space for technology and meeting areas. Current library card holders have access to hundreds of thousands of volumes, along with free online streaming movies and song downloads. Last year over 1,000,000 people visited NOPL branches, and checked out over 1,100,000 items. This generated late fees in excess of $164,000.

In my personal experience, people who frequent libraries do so in their own neighborhood. I would generally locate the library closest to my home, and that would be the one location I would visit. However this narrow focus deprives any potential library goers from the truly diverse and unique collection of libraries New Orleans has to offer. This article will explore the 14 branches of the New Orleans Public Library system.

Please note, the hours of operation listed are current as of the publication of this article, however, with the additional tax revenues approved in May, expect to see an increase in hours and days of operation throughout all 14 branches.

1. Nix Branch (Carrollton)

1401 South Carrollton Avenue

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

A tall brick building on S. Carrollton, the Nix branch fits the mold of a traditional library. Comprised of a single large room with high ceilings, large windows provide plenty of warm light. The ceiling is painted light blue, and paint peels around the air conditioning ducts. Wooden fans help circulate the air on hot days. The computer stations are the most popular items, a trend I found repeated throughout the NOPL system. One of the librarians was teaching a young boy how to use the computers to do research, possibly for a school paper. Roughly half of the space is comprised of tables and chairs for those inclined to read or do homework. Books, magazines, and DVD's line the walls. An arm chair, overflowing with stuffed animals is "Reserved for Storytelling Only", per the sign. The Nix Branch houses over 15,000 volumes, and offers a number of programs that are unique to its branch, including a reading club for ages 7-12, a creative writing workshop, a portable library program which visits the retirement home Lambeth House, a French bilingual story time, and a toddler story time.

2. Milton H. Latter Branch (Uptown)

5120 St. Charles Avenue

9 am - 8 pm, Mon. & Wed.

9 am - 6 pm, Tues. & Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

12 pm - 5 pm, Sun.

A stunning mansion whose landscaped grounds encompass an entire city block, the Latter Branch is one of the most stunning libraries in the metro area. A low stone wall and hedge surround the property which was donated to the city for the specific use as a library by the parents of Milton Latter, who was killed in action during the Battle of Okinawa in April of 1945. The main building sits directly in the center of the block, on a small man made berm. A deep porch, supported by stone columns, overlooks St. Charles and provides an ideal place to read, as several patrons are often seen doing when the weather is cooperative. One of the sitting rooms on the first floor serves as a polling location on election days. The ground floor is mostly devoid of books, save for a children's section next to the checkout desk. The rooms retain a portion of their old glory, mixed with modern library necessities. The living room boasts an elaborately carved wooden mantle over the fireplace. Stacks of plastic and steel chairs sit next to it. A small tiled sun room sits off the living room. The majority of the library's collection can be found on the second floor, up two flights of wide, heavily varnished wooden stairs. The upstairs is carpeted, with rows of steel bookshelves housing the books and DVD's available for checkout. Several computers are available with internet access, and prove popular. There are several small desks, their sides enclosed with high walls, designed for the serious student. You can often find the products of Loyola and Tulane occupying these in November and April, when finals have begun. Latter is home to some 50,000 volumes, and hosts a used book sale from 10am-2pm every Wednesday and Saturday in the carriage house behind the library. Cheap thrillers for 99 cents abound, along with gems such as a leather bound early edition of James Joyce's Ulysses. The branch also hosts a very popular story time twice a week, a weekly meeting of Toastmasters, an organization with the goal to improve leadership and public speaking abilities, and a monthly Poetry meeting hosted by local poet Gina Ferrara, among many other programs.

3. Children's Resource Center (Uptown)

913 Napoleon Avenue

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

While the name would suggest this is a library strictly for children, it offers something for patrons of all ages. The library is housed in a small brick building adjacent to the basketball court on the corner of Magazine and Napoleon, on the same block as the Second District Station for NOPD. Half of the library is devoted to children's books and reading areas. The other half offers magazines and more adult literature. Several computers with internet access are also a popular draw, as computers are throughout the NOPL system. All told, the CRC Branch hosts roughly 25,000 volumes, including over 7,000 picture books, and a sizable collection of Latin American focused volumes, which Tulane helped the branch acquire. Along with a monthly knitting circle, the library offers a story/craft time 2-4 times a month, a bilingual Spanish/English story time hosted by Tulane, a teen poetry workshop, and an annual Brain Awareness Program hosted by LSU. Often during special events and story times, a staff member will entertain the guests with the antique piano housed in the library.

4. The Main Branch (Central Business District)

219 Loyola Avenue

The flagship of the NOPL system, and the largest of all the branches, the Main Branch as designed in 1958 by Curtis Davis, who also designed the Superdome. The structure offers three stories above ground, and two below. The basement houses New Orleans archives dating back to the 1700's, and at one time was designated as a bomb shelter by the city. Scenes from the recently acclaimed mini-series True Detective were filmed in the lower levels, along with the Bruce Willis futuristic action film Looper, and Matthew McCounaghey's Dallas Buyers Club. The Main Branch offers a large bank of computers, as well as comfortable arm chairs spread throughout. A sitting area to the right of the entrance seems to be a popular spot for people to escape from the heat and rest. The Main branch is home to over 200,000 volumes, not including their reference section, and hosts a wide array of programs including teen groups with focuses such as anime, video games, and movies. The Louisiana Division is popular for academic and historical research, with the genealogy program seeing high attendance rates.

5. Robert E. Smith Branch (Lakeview)

6301 Canal Boulevard

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

One of the more recent additions to the NOPL branches, the Lakeview location is housed in a modern building comprised of exposed ducts, glass, steel, and concrete. Bright green and grey are the two primary colors throughout. A large bank of computers offers internet access to the library patrons, a largely younger crowd. Chairs and tables are sprinkled throughout the stacks, and a small alcove off to the side offers stuffed armchairs for long bouts of reading.

A large collection of DVD's are available to checkout by the librarian's desk. The Smith branch hosts movie watching events, along with teen game nights, adult reading programs, and Minute to Win It contests throughout the year.

6. Mid-City Branch (Mid-City)

3700 Orleans Avenue

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

Located in the old American Can factory, which has recently been converted into apartments and retail spaces, the Mid-City branch is one of the smallest of the 14 NOPL branches. It is comprised of a single room with a small alcove off to the side for children's reading activities. Computers line one wall and part of another, with the rest of the space taken up by books. A folding table is ever present in the middle of the library, covered with used books for sale. The branch offers approximately 20,000 volumes for patrons, along with weekly story times, monthly movie watching parties with homemade popcorn, and career workshop programs, among many others.

7. Rosa F. Keller Library & Community Center (Broadmoor)

4300 S. Broad Street

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The Broadmoor branch is located on the corner of Louisiana and S. Broad, and like several other branches, is built in a more modern style. Steel, concrete, and glass abound, with inspirational quotes printed across the walls. Like the other, more modern libraries, computers take up a good portion of the available space, but the traditional bookshelves still dominate.  The library is connected to the Green Dot Cafe run by Liberty Kitchen, a program which trains young people in the service industry. The cafe offers fresh pastries, coffee, and lunch. The Keller branch houses tens of thousands of volumes, along with 18 computers, 4 iPads, and 2 children's computers. The branch is a partnership between the NOPL system and the Broadmoor Improvement Association, and hosts both Spanish and English conversation groups, health awareness programs in partnership with LSU, citizenship classes, and Reading to Rover, a program in which volunteers from the Visiting Pet Program in New Orleans bring dogs to the library for children to practice reading to.

8. Central City Branch (Central City)

2405 Jackson Avenue

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

11 am - 4 pm, Fri.

The Central City branch is located inside of Mahalia Jackson School. After checking in with a security guard, visitors are instructed to climb to the second story, and proceed along the open air catwalk to the back of the school complex. Being in an elementary school, the library is more focused on teens and children, with a designated kid's room, and many books aimed at young adults. A meeting room in the back of the library serves as a venue for community meetings, library presentations, workshops, movie watching, group reading, and a myriad of other programs. During the summer neighborhood children often spend the entire day in the library and its adjacent rooms. With books, movies, and internet access, there are plenty of activities to keep them occupied. The library also hosts programs such as one in which children learn how Mardi Gras Indians create and decorate their elaborate costumes, and another where the students decorate a plain wooden table with scenes from a book selected by the library. Due to its location in the school, free lunches are provided for neighborhood children, even during the summer. The branch offers more than 8,000 volumes for the mostly juvenile and teen audience.

9. Alvar Branch (Bywater)

913 Alvar Street

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The Bywater location, while somewhat small, is packed with books and computers, and was crowded with patrons when I visited on a weekday afternoon. As always, the computers were the most popular draw, but there was also a wide selection of DVD's, books, and magazines. The computers are confined to the center of the building, with the outer walls and adjacent spaces full with shelves. Alvar houses nearly 18,000 items, and among other programs, offers a build your own comic book workshop, and the first zine (a small circulation, self published book) creating and reading program in the NOPL.

10. Martin Luther King Branch (Lower 9th Ward)

1611 Caffin Avenue

9 am - 5 pm, Mon. - Fri.

The 9th Ward branch is located in Martin Luther King School, just inside the front doors to the right. The public library is separated from the school library by a glass wall, allowing students two separate resources for books, movies,  and research. Like the other branches, the computers are one of the more popular items, although the tables were used by students hanging out after school as well. The branch houses over 18,000 volumes, and hosts summer reading programs and weekly story times. Despite being located within a school, the patrons are equally divided between adults and children, with many of the older generation using the computer system for job hunting, applications, and resumes.

11. East New Orleans Branch (East N.O.)

5641 Read Boulevard

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The New Orleans East branch is a stunning example of modern architecture, making generous use of steel, concrete, and glass. A glass walled second story overhangs the front of the building, showcasing cantilever architecture. The second largest branch, after the Main branch, N.O. East offers an entire wing of children's books and reading areas, a large collection of DVD's and audio books, a computer room for instructional classes, and a large meeting room, all on the first floor. The second floor offers more meeting and study space, as well as the majority of the books housed in the library. A bank of computers runs along one wall, with tables and chairs positioned next to the floor to ceiling glass windows. The New Orleans East location is home to 62,000 volumes and offers programs ranging from adult reading, computer and technology classes, and yearly tax help, to teen homework aid, teen poetry classes, and family reading programs.

12. Norman Mayer Branch (Gentilly)

3001 Gentilly Boulevard

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The Gentilly branch was constructed following Katrina, and like the N.O. East, Broadmoor, Lakeview, and Algiers branches, is an example of modern architecture. The first floor offers a conference room which the public can reserve, and a large children's area. The second floor offers a separate area for young adult fiction, as well as a large reading area overlooking Gentilly Blvd. A large bank of computers provided patrons with internet access for job applications, school research, and to watch the latest music videos with their headphones. In the lobby of the library is a WWNO Radio listening post, on which patrons can record their thoughts and views on a weekly topic. The branch offers patrons approximately 47,000 items, along with programs such as mystery book club, English/Spanish storytime, and the very popular weekly open tech labs, in which patrons can get one on one help with computer and mobile device questions.

13. Algiers Regional Library (Algiers)

3014 Holiday Drive

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The Algiers branch is nearly as large as N.O. East, and boasts similarly modern architecture. A large hanging sculpture dominates the two story atrium in the center of the building, with a large children's area in the back. A row of computers runs through the middle of the library, separating the entryway from the bookshelves. The second floor boasts more computers and study areas. The branch offers 65,000 volumes for patrons, and hosts numerous programs including lego club, chess club, camera club, and teen and juvenile homework help classes. They also offer an annual Mardi Gras shoebox float making class, along with a make your own Mardi Gras mask class. The artwork of local artists is displayed throughout the library on a rotating basis.

14. Cita Dennis Hubbell Branch (Algiers Point)

725 Pelican Avenue

10 am - 7 pm, Mon. - Thurs.

10 am - 5 pm, Sat.

The Algiers Point branch is my personal favorite. Housed in a small brick building, the oldest public library in New Orleans, built in 1907, boasts gardens on either side, complete with benches for reading in good weather. The library is a single large room with high ceilings and fans. Large windows provide plenty of natural light, and a reading alcove to the left of the entrance offers a wonderful place to curl up with a book for several hours. The computers are all against the wall to the right of the entrance, with a high stack of books blocking them from the rest of the library. Like every other branch, the computers were the star of the show, but the peace and quiet that draw many to libraries was preserved by their thoughtful placement. The branch houses tens of thousands of items, and hosts the NOPL's most popular adult reading program, Author Night, with a focus on Louisiana authors and/or topics. The library also offers an annual Holiday Fest during which Christmas trees and wreaths are sold.

An interesting story about the Hubbell branch was conveyed by one of the librarians. The library, opened in 1907, was closed in 1966, but through the efforts of Mr. Hubbell, for whom the branch is now named, it was reopened in 1975 during Moon Landrieu's term as mayor. The branch was shut down once again in 2008 due to lingering issues from Katrina, but Mr. Hubbell's daughter Amy was successful in having it reopened, this time during the mayoral term of Moon Landrieu’s son, Mitch.

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