Algiers Regional: 'A Library for the Future'
In the 1960s, New Orleans Public Library officials launched an ambitious plan to create a network of large branches to span the city by 1971. On April 19, 1966, the first of these “superior” libraries opened as Algiers Regional Library at 3014 Holiday Drive.
Algiers Regional Library was the prototype for this project, which, in the end, only resulted in two other locations: East New Orleans Regional Library, which opened in 1968, and Robert E. Smith Library, which originally opened in Lakeview in 1956, but was later demolished to make room for a larger building. Smith Library reopened with its renovations in 1979.
Boasting 13,100 square feet, an auditorium with 90 seats, air conditioning, and a book capacity of 30,000, Algiers Regional Library was introduced to New Orleanians as a “Library for the future.” It even featured three collections purchased from the 1967 World’s Fair Library Exhibition.
In the 55 years since, Algiers Regional has served as the larger of two Library locations on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, an area that – at last count – had a population of roughly 25,000 people.
La Von Williams grew up in the area and has fond memories of her frequent visits to Algiers Regional Library.
“I came to this Library all the time as a child, ever since I was a baby. Growing up, this Library meant everything to me. I was an avid reader, and I never felt anything but love here,” Williams said.
As an adult, Williams’ career took an unexpected turn when a close friend’s mother suggested she consider becoming a librarian.
“I never planned to be a librarian; but, after she said it, I thought ‘Why not try, I love the Library, I always have,’” she said. “So I started at Nix Library as a part time Library page, and three months later, I got a promotion to be full time. I eventually got my MLIS and now I’m a Librarian III and helping to manage a regional branch. I started from the bottom and went up to the top.”
Williams’ career at the Library started 28 years ago and has taken her to practically every location and every department. About a year and a half ago, Williams was notified that she would be transferred to her very favorite location and was thrilled.
“They asked me if I wanted to be the assistant manager at Algiers Regional, and I was just so excited,” she said. “It felt like coming home. Like I said, this Library meant everything to me as a child, and I feel so blessed to be able to provide that same feeling down to this new generation.”
Algiers Regional was one of six Library locations completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It was closed for seven years following the storm but returned to its Holiday Drive home in July of 2012, bigger and better.
“It was such a joyful occasion when we reopened out here. Hubbell Library in Algiers Point is wonderful, and I used to go there often as a child, too, but not everyone can get there easily, and it is a small branch. Having this big, shiny, new Library out here again means so much for our community,” Williams said.
She said since starting her new position at Algiers Regional, it has been a pleasure to serve her neighbors and she loves seeing familiar faces every day, like those of dedicated patrons Nina Red and Grace Pelton.
Red lives in a retirement community a few blocks away and on a nice day, there’s nothing she would rather do than take a nice walk to the Library.
“I come here so often that people think I work here. I say, ‘No, I just love it very much,’” Red said, laughing. “I’m here at least three or four times a week, and it used to be much more before the pandemic. They had so many wonderful classes, like sewing classes to yoga, and other types of events — like coffee and coloring — that just provided a wonderful way to get out of the house and into the community.”
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Algiers Regional Library was known to host frequent events including one of the New Orleans Public Library’s longest-running programs: the West Bank Book Club. The group is currently run by Shelby Goddard, who has been working at Algiers Regional for three years.
“I think that book club has been meeting for over 50 years, so it’s a pretty special thing to be a part of,” Goddard said. “I took over the program during the pandemic, but it was so encouraging to see that people really wanted to participate in the group, even if it was going to be virtual.”
Goddard said that enthusiasm is indicative of the overall feelings patrons have for Algiers Regional, including Red’s. While she misses Library programs and is looking forward to their return, Red said she has continued to take full advantage of the Library’s offerings to keep her occupied during these trying times.
“I don’t know what I would do without the Library. I tell everyone I meet that they should use their Library, and I’m always trying to get my neighbors to come with me to programs, but they’d rather stay home. So I say, ‘Oh well, your loss, I’m going to the Library!’”
Pelton also lives nearby and has been coming to the Algiers Regional Library for the past 25 years.
“I’ve always loved the Library, for as long as I can remember,” Pelton said. “I was born in New Orleans and then moved to Metairie when I was 8 years old. Before they opened the Library on Metairie Road, I would take two buses and a streetcar every Saturday, just to get to Nix Library. I’d pick out a stack of books, haul them home, and then do it all over again the next week.”
When she moved from her Uptown home to be closer to her sister in the 1990s, Pelton said she wasted no time getting acquainted with her new Library location.
“I read constantly. If I’m not reading, I’m probably asleep. So as much as I loved my old Library, I knew as soon as I moved to this side of the river, I would have to find somewhere closer to go to get my books. Thankfully, this one is just a few blocks away.”
Pelton is turning 90 this year and said, while it is getting harder for her to travel, the trek to the Library is one trip she’ll never stop making.
“I’ve always made good use of the public library, I think it’s one of the best things that we have in this city. I come here at least two or three times a week, and I don’t ever plan on stopping.”
Like Williams, Sarah Waits grew up in Algiers and said the Algiers Regional Library was monumentally important in her life.
“I came weekly, if not more often. When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off while she went grocery shopping, and I would lose myself in the shelves of books in the children’s section. As I got older, I think I read every book in the YA section and found hours of entertainment in the mystery section,” she recalled.
In high school, Waits would ride the bus to the Library most afternoons, for a quiet space to study and do homework.
“I had my barcode memorized so even if I forgot my Library card at home, I could still rattle off that number and check out my stack of books,” she said.
Waitts has since moved across the river, but she said Algiers Regional Library will always be dear to her heart.
“My love for reading started as a child when I was introduced to the magical world of books. I take my own children to Alvar Library, our neighborhood branch, and hope that they will get the same sense of wonder and joy from the Library that I have,” she said. “The new building is beautiful and such an inviting space for the Algiers community.”
This article is part of the Library’s monthly Location Spotlight series, highlighting the unique stories of the individuals, families, and communities that use each Library location, and the staff that keeps them running.
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