The Library's 1910 Annual Report says, "A great advantage a small branch has is the strong feeling of friendliness that soon springs up between the borrower and the library force. The success and growth of the branch depends more upon the creation and maintenance of this feeling than upon any other one cause." In 1910 NOPL had only three tiny branches; today it has four times that many, providing a broad range of services to patrons city-wide. Yet the basic philosophy stated by City Librarian Henry M. Gill eighty-six years ago is still valid in the Library's centennial year. NOPL's branches know their neighborhoods, and their neighbors know them. Providing convenient and efficient library service close to home--and marked by a personal touch--continues to be a hallmark of branch work.
The selection of sites for the branches was in every case a happy one. Royal Branch is on the edge of an exceedingly busy commercial and shopping section and directly opposite a pretty public square....Napoleon Branch, at almost the other end of town, has been located in a neighborhood exactly similar to the "downtown library." The Algiers Branch is built at the intersection of two of the principal avenues of that part of the city, it is just across the street from a large school and only four squares distant from another. [Annual Report, 1907, p. 15]
The Royal Branch, funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie, was the first NOPL branch to open, on November 25, 1907. Two other branches, Algiers and Napoleon, also built with Carnegie funds, opened shortly afterward and continue to serve the public today. The Royal Branch, however, never recovered from extensive damage by Hurricane Betsy, and was later demolished. Until the 1940s, Royal led in the circulation of foreign language books, reflecting the make-up of the neighborhood it served.
On the night that the building [Royal Branch] was opened to the public a large and interested audience was present. Mayor Behrman, President Dillard and the Librarian spoke briefly in tendering the library to the people. Professor Alcee Fortier, who delivered the address of the evening, spoke in French. [Annual Report, 1908, p. 18]
The Nix Branch, NOPL's sixth branch and the first to be built without the benefit of Carnegie funds, opened on December 1, 1930 after a long campaign by Carrollton residents to bring library service to their neighborhood. This poster announced the branch's forty-fifth anniversary in 1975, celebrated with a week-long series of lectures on the history of the neighborhood it serves.
When the building [Algiers Branch] was dedicated the people of Algiers, as one of the papers the next morning said, "made the occasion a fraternal reunion of civic pride and progress." Some six hundred people must have been present. [Annual Report, 1908, p. 19]
During the 1940s, in order to broaden its service area, the Library opened a number of "deposit stations" in housing projects around the city, including Bienville, Magnolia, St. Bernard, Lafitte, Desire, Iberville, and this one at the "Our Town" Project on Gentilly Road, a temporary community built to accommodate the families of defense workers and servicemen during and after World War II. Deposit stations were also opened at the Dorgenois Playground, NORD's Behrman Center, and at McDonogh No. 32 School.
When the branches were established it was not the purpose of the Board that they should be developed into large collections of books, but rather that they should be large enough to serve only their immediate neighborhood. The buildings were designed and equipped to contain about six thousand volumes and reading space for twenty-five or thirty readers. By granting to each branch borrower the additional privilege of withdrawing books from the main collection when he desired a book not in his branch, we hoped that the branches would be able to meet the demands that would be made on them. Our experience has been quite the contrary. The presence of a library, no matter how small, has stimulated and increased the desire for reading and the branches are proving to be much too small, both in scope and number of volumes each contains. We have learned by experience and the last branch building is large enough to accommodate a collection of at least twenty thousand volumes. [Annual Report, 1912, p. 16]
In 1946, Branch Nine became the second public library facility serving the African-American citizens of New Orleans. During the years of segregation, the Library attempted to increase its service to African Americans through bookmobile stops and book deposits in black schools and in housing projects.
Our greatest need...is a larger number of branches. [Annual Report, 1916-1919, p. 9]
There is a pressing need for three additional branches; a particularly urgent need for one in the upper part of the city, popularly known as Carrollton. [Annual Report, 1924, p. 7]
The Nora Navra Branch under construction in late 1953. Partially funded by the $15,000 bequest of Miss Nora Navra (1946), the branch replaced the temporary "Branch Nine" structure on St. Bernard Avenue. The branch was dedicated on May 2, 1954, bringing long-awaited service to the Seventh Ward.
...there is an acute need for Branch Libraries in several sections of the City not served now. Public demands have been made for more service than can be supplied under present financial limitations, yet library service today is regarded as essential in the lives of the citizenry. There should be Branches is Broadmoor, Lakeview, Gentilly, the Ninth Ward, the Downtown Business District; sub-branches and stations are needed elsewhere in the City; a bookmobile service would reach thousands of residents not served by other agencies. [Annual Report, 1937, p. 21]
This 1950 map showing the location of the Main Library and NOPL's 10 branches was drawn by famed New Orleans cartoonist John Chase, who also designed the mural on the wall behind the Main Library circulation desk.
The dedication of the Alvar Branch on November 7 was a great occasion for the Library system. Actual work on the building started in 1938 and was scheduled for completion early in 1939, but a series of delays prevented the opening. The branch, under the direction of Mrs. Shirley K. Stephenson is off to a good start. During its first full month of operation, more books were loaned for home use from it than from any other branch except Napoleon. [Annual Report, 1940, p. 5]
The interior of the Alvar Branch, which opened to serve the Bywater neighborhood in November 1940. The branch was one of many public works projects in New Orleans funded by the Works Progress Administration. This photograph was taken by a Library patron in 1948.
The staff is happy to report that library services are no
longer bound by the walls of the main library or branches. Service has literally been extended to
the highways and by-ways....
--In June the Bookmobile materialized out of the wishful dreams of the Librarian and Branch Supervisor. Translating paper plans to deeds required much work but the enthusiastic cooperation of all departments of the library made the venture a success from the start. The press was most generous in providing publicity about the 'Mountain to Mahomet' scheme of the library. Due to a limited bookstock, services at first were provided only to children, but when schools started and new books had been added, adults were invited to borrow books also. Stops are now made in Lakeview, Gentilly, Broadmoor and in other areas far removed from a branch library. [Annual Report, 1940, p. 17]
A 1940 Library Journal article on "Discards and Displays" inspired the staff of the Dryades Branch to create the exhibit shown here, designed to attract attention to "deadwood"--books that had not circulated more than a few times in the previous two years. The poem on the poster, spoken by the weeping book, is not visible in the photograph, but it read:
You can see how sad I am, No one knows how mad I am,
Sitting on the shelf all day,
What a life to stay and stay.
So I ask you kindly sir,
Maybe you my lady fair,
Turn my pages, take me home,
Read me, chase away my gloom.
This agency [at New Orleans Bomber Base] was set up
and has expanded rapidly throughout the year until a new and larger building is needed to house
it. The room is crowded practically every hour of opening and usually 20 to 30 men sitting on
the floor may be counted. An informal atmosphere is maintained but 'discipline' never becomes
a problem. The boys smoke, play cards, or other games, write letters, or study as the mood
--A total of 16,904 books were loaned for use in the barracks, which represents only a fraction of the number read in the Library....
--Late in the year the Library organized a similar branch for the U.S. Naval reserve. [Annual Report, 1942, p. 22-23]
African-American children line up for a visit to the bookmobile, ca. 1950s. Shown at the right of the photograph is the original NOPL bookmobile, borrowed from the Louisiana Library Commission.
Deposit collections have been placed in community
centers, groups of books from Alvar Branch have been sent on loan to Jackson Barracks, and
many Branches have placed books in the centers of the War Emergency Children's Service.
--Service to Negro readers has been increased by the opening of a deposit collection at the St. Bernard Housing Project, under the general supervision of the Dryades Branch. A loan of 750 books has been made to the project, which opened in January, and 402 patrons accounted for a total circulation of 3,435 books. This is a striking example of community response to the extension of library facilities, particularly when it is noted that this deposit collection was open only three days a week and staffed entirely by volunteers, under the supervision of a member of the Dryades Branch staff who worked there one day a week during the early months of its operation. [Annual Report, 1943, p. 20]
A summer drawing class on the steps of the Latter Branch, 1953. The Milton H. Latter Memorial Branch, a gift to the citizens of New Orleans from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Latter, opened on October 31, 1948.
Despite the obvious limitations of the service, Bookmobile patrons provide an unusually enthusiastic group of 'library boosters', and they are an ever-present reminder that Orleanians are anxious to avail themselves of public library facilities, when not too inaccessible. [Annual Report, 1943, p. 20]
In 1944, 71% of the books circulated by the Library were from those agencies closest to their potential borrowers--the branch libraries and the Bookmobile. Orleanians have over and over again proved that they are anxious to use library books and facilities and the constant call is for the construction of branch agencies in those many areas of the city now without public library service. [Annual Report, 1944, p. 13]
The Smith Branch was born in April 1956, when the building shown in this drawing opened in Lakeview on land donated by Robert E. Smith. Demand for library service in the Lakeview area soon outstripped the capacity of the small building, however. The structure shown here was demolished, and in 1979 the new and expanded Smith Branch opened on the same site.
As usual, service to Negroes has radiated from the Dryades Branch....The Branch itself has been the center of much activity, and the auditorium was used daily for meetings of educational and civic organizations. However, no single agency in a city the size of New Orleans could be expected to cover the community, and the day of adequate public library services to Negroes must await the day when branches and bookmobiles can again be supplied. [Annual Report, 1944, p. 15]
Patrons at the Desire Housing Project station, 1960.
While the collection there [Dryades] is modern, and probably more complete than any other single branch in the system, it is totally inadequate for meeting the needs of one-third of our total citizenry. [Annual Report, 1945, p. 19]
In 1963, the Library contracted with John MacKenzie Cory of the New York Public Library to prepare a study of branch services and formulate a plan for future development. Cory's report, A Network of Public Libraries for New Orleans, was to guide the direction of branch construction and services through the 1960s and 1970s. This map from the Cory report shows areas in need of new or increased service, ranked according to priority. Among other recommendations, the Cory report advocated the building of a system of regional branches, designed to serve wider areas than local neighborhoods and to provide broader resources and activities than smaller branches.
...in a year when building was practically prohibitive we were able to open an entirely new branch in October. A new branch at any time in New Orleans would be cause for rejoicing, and in view of the obstacles in 1946 such an accomplishment deserves listing as a minor miracle. Its temporary name is Branch Nine, it is located at 1902 St. Bernard Avenue, and it is the second agency for the Negro population of New Orleans. The complete story of how this branch, which had been badly needed, came to be built is too long for this report, but it would mention the Orleans Parish School Board, which in June provided a room at the Valena C. Jones School for temporary housing during the summer months, the War Assets Administration, which sold two prefabricated huts to the Library Board for $302.40, the City Administration, which provided an ideal piece of land in the heart of the area to be served and the labor required to erect the building, and the many staff members who gave unstintingly of their time to make the venture a success. That the Branch is a decided success is proved by the records of its use, which show that despite its small book collection of less than three thousand and its part-time schedule of opening, a circulation of over twenty-one thousand was counted in a period of six months! [Annual Report, 1946, p. 15]
The Library and the City acted quickly on Cory's recommendations. Less than a year after the report was published, the citizens of New Orleans voted in favor of a bond issue to provide funding to build the Algiers Regional Branch.
The Papertroopers of New Orleans have signified their intention of spending money from selling paper for a gift of unique importance--a Bookmobile. None were available in 1946, but it is anticipated that 1947 will see this new mobile unit on our streets--a gift from the boys and girls of New Orleans to their fellow citizens--young and old. [Annual Report, 1946, p. 19]
Further funding for Algiers Regional's construction was provided by a $226,800 federal grant administered by the Louisiana State Library under the Library Services and Construction Act, Title II. Federal funds were also awarded for the construction two years later of the East New Orleans Regional Branch. This letter from State Librarian Sallie Farrell announces the Algiers Regional grant award.
...the Library requested permission of the City Recreation Department to establish library stations at two playgrounds--Dorgenois Playground and Behrman Center. At the same time a third station was opened at Our Town Housing Project, on Gentilly Road. Open four hours, three days per week, supplied with a few hundred readable titles, and staffed with part-time staff members, all three stations have been tremendously successful. When fall came, it was decided to continue them, and by the end of the year with six months of operation 10,070 books had been circulated in this manner, to both children and adults. [Annual Report, 1947, p. 17]
Board members planning the Algiers Regional Branch, ca. 1965.
The magnificent Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, given by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Latter in memory of their son lost in the recent war, deserves a report all its own. This stone mansion at 5120 St. Charles Avenue, a landmark of uptown New Orleans, has been completely remodeled, furnished, and equipped by the donors. It is unique among the public libraries of the nation for its equipment--crystal chandeliers, tapestries, period furniture--and for its setting in a full square of landscaped gardens. Its conference and assembly rooms provide for a type of community-wide service long needed in New Orleans. Opened November 2, by the year's end its patronage had already justified the generosity of the Latter family and the expectations of the Library administration. [Annual Report, 1948]
Invitation to the dedication of the Algiers Regional Branch, the first tangible result of the recommendations made in the Cory report. Algiers Regional celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
Bookmobile II, donated by the boys and girls of the Community Volunteer Services' Papertroopers, was placed in service in June. It has extended service to some fifteen thousand additional neighborhoods and to thousands of people who have never before had any public library service. Bookmobile II's record, covering the last six months of 1948, is spectacular, demonstrating once again that in New Orleans, nothing can compete with this type of service for mass circulation, quick turnover of books, and increased numbers of library borrowers. [Annual Report, 1948]
A 1974 invitation to the dedication of NOPL's fourth--and last--generation of bookmobiles. The new bookmobiles provided not only books and other print materials but were also equipped with interior and exterior projection screens, 16mm projectors, tape recorders, a turntable, an amplifier, interior and exterior paging systems and a special color scheme referred to as "Super Graphics."
... the Norman Mayer Memorial Gentilly Branch, dedicated March 28. Constructed with a portion of the $250,000 bequest of Mrs. Norman Mayer in memory of her husband, the building represents functional planning for the needs of today and tomorrow. Unique for New Orleans are the patio reading room, the separate wings for adults and children, the meeting room with outside entrance, the planning for future expansion without structural change, the location--immediately adjacent to a major shopping center. [Annual Report, 1949]
Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, City Council members, Library Board members, and Library administrators break ground for the Broad Branch , October 16, 1992. The branch replaced the Broadmoor Branch on Washington Avenue, which served the Broadmoor neighborhood from 1954 until structural problems with the building forced its closure in 1981. When Broadmoor was shut down, the Library Board promised residents a new branch; the Broad Branch was a little while in coming, but its opening in 1993 made that promise good.
The long-awaited Broadmoor Branch was made possible through purchase of a building adjacent to the neighborhood shopping center, in October 1943. Planned for occupancy in early 1954, the fifty-thousand dollar branch will be the first air conditioned public library in New Orleans, the second to be provided entirely from the Norman Mayer Fund. It will have a meeting room for neighborhood civic and educational groups. [Annual Report, 1953]
An important link in the branch library system, this modern building [Navra] was begun in the fall of 1953, will be ready for occupancy early in 1954. Planned to replace a temporary wartime "hut," the fifty-thousand dollar branch will be a memorial to the late Nora Navra, who left the New Orleans Public Library some fifteen thousand dollars, used to initiate the project. The building is planned to accommodate 12,000 books, will have separate wings for children and adults. [Annual Report, 1953]
The Broad Branch, at the time of its opening in November, 1993. Like the Latter Branch on St. Charles Avenue, Broad was once a private home. The Hardie-Fattel house at 3915 Napoleon Ave. is on the register of local landmarks designated by the New Orleans Historic Districts/Landmarks Commission. The architects of the new branch renovated the former residence to house meeting rooms and, when the Library budget can support it, a Life Skills Center; a new addition at the rear of the original building houses the library's collections and administrative facilities.
The key to an economical solution of the branch library development problem in New Orleans has already been recognized by its library and city officials in terms of the concept of "regional libraries." This term is used in a variety of ways in library practice but it is always applied to a service area larger than the local neighborhood and it always implies library resources and activities that are broad in scope and high in quality. The point is that a strong library, strategically located, will serve a larger population and cover satisfactorily, a larger geographical area than a weak library will. [John Mackenzie Cory,A Network of Public Libraries for New Orleans, p. 12]
Invitation to the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch.
The two new Traveling Branches which began operating in October are symbols of the new types of service towards which we are working. The Traveling Branches are air-conditioned, utilize photographic charging, and carry a staff of two library assistants and a driver. Each Traveling Branch is equipped with 3,000 volumes selected to offer both adult and children's books. The project was underwritten by Miscellaneous Capital Funds provided by the Mayor and the Council. [Annual Report, 1964]
On October 23, 1968, the beautiful East New Orleans Regional Library was dedicated. The $540,000 structure brought six-day-a-week service to the East Gentilly area for the first time. This new facility, situated in a rapidly growing residential area, became the largest branch in the city system and the second in a proposed regional branch network for New Orleans. [Annual Report, 1968]
NOPL's newest branch, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch, opened to the public on October 30, 1995 and was formally dedicated early this year. Housed in The Martin Luther King School for Science and Technology, the branch is a new departure for NOPL, since it serves both as a school library for MLK students and, after school hours, as a full service branch for the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Interestingly enough, an arrangement of this sort was advocated as early as 1913, when City Librarian Henry M. Gill wrote, "If a room in each of the schools in districts far removed from our present branches would be assigned to the library and opened to the public after school hours, an enormous good could be done at a minimum of cost both to the schools and the library." Eighty-three years later, Mayor Marc Morial cuts the ribbon at the dedication ceremony of the King Branch.
The Algiers Point Branch Library was originally opened in 1907 with a capacity of 6,000 books. Hurricane Betsy rendered the building inoperable in 1965, but in 1973 the Algiers Point residents indicated a strong desire to have the branch renovated and reopened. Algiers Point Branch with a book capacity of 20,000 was officially dedicated in October, 1975. [Annual Report, 1975]
On November 2, citizens of New Orleans approved a bond issue that will provide funds for the construction of a new Robert E. Smith Branch Library. The existing structure serves a community three times the size it is designed to serve; is badly in need of repairs; seats 24 patrons and has no space for juvenile or adult programming. The new structure to be built on the same site will add a mezzanine level, equipment room and meeting room capable of seating 90 patrons, capacity for 55,000 volumes, and seating for 65 patrons. [Annual Report, 1976]
The high point of 1993 was the opening of the Broad Street Branch on November 19th. It was a beautiful and sunny day as over 300 citizens gathered for the dedication of our newest branch. The architect blended old and new in a way that preserved the integrity of the Hardie-Fattel house, which has become a landmark for the community and an efficient and modern library building. [Annual Report, 1993]