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'It's absolutely beautiful': NOPL Helps New School Build A Library

Children read in Hynes UNO's Library, created with help from NOPL staff.

When Edward Hynes Charter opened a new elementary school in Gentilly in 2019, Principal Brittany Smith assumed it would take them years to build their in-school library. But, thanks to help from the New Orleans Public Library, they were able to start offering their inaugural class access to an on-campus library in a matter of months. 

“A team of four Library staff came in during winter break our first year open with a bunch of books that were being taken out of their collection,” Smith said. “They organized and categorized them and got the space set up really nice. Then, when our students came back after break, there was a library there waiting for them.” 

The classroom-sized library features a collection of books curated through parent, teacher, and Library donation. The project was put on hold during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Library staff revisited the school earlier this month to make some finishing touches and get the space ready for the fall’s expanding student body. 

“They were so helpful and kind. They put so much thought into it, which I really appreciate,” Smith said. “They helped us organize the books to relate back to our teaching methods, like including a section about getting along together, which reflects our social-emotional learning curriculum.” 

Hynes UNO started operating in the fall of 2019 out of a temporary building with 107 kindergarteners in four different classrooms. A second grade class will join the school this fall, and Smith said the school plans to add a new class every year, up to grade eight. Their permanent building is currently under construction. It’s scheduled to open in 2023, and Smith said they never anticipated having a library before then. 

“We were brand new when this project started. Sometimes you hear about schools that are very well developed, and it takes them years to get their library set up. Even though ours is small, we feel blessed to already have gotten a jump-start on our collection, and it’s really all thanks to the New Orleans Public Library,” Smith said. “It’s a wonderful feature for our students. I am so thrilled to have it.” 

Librarian Kacy Helwick worked on the Hynes UNO project, which she said was a joy. 

“School libraries are vital resources to both the students and the teachers, and I’m really happy I was able to be a part of this project,” Helwick said. “As the youth collection development librarian, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the opening and re-opening of several of our locations. Organizing a new library is always hard work, but it is so satisfying to see it all come together.” 

Smith said promoting a love for reading is an integral part of their school’s mission. And, by having an on-campus library for students as young as five, she said Hynes is building a place for that love to grow.

“Kacy and her team truly created a warm and welcoming space for these children –– one that intrigues and engages them, while promoting their curiosity,” Smith said. “They didn’t just give us books and say, ‘OK, here’s your library.’ They worked with us to build an actual, functional library that promotes literacy and a love for reading. And they did it in a way that we, without a librarian of our own yet, wouldn’t have had the capacity or know-how to do.”

Smith said Hynes plans to hire a full-time school librarian for the 2022/2023 year. The Library also helped with that process, she said, by working with them to develop a plan and best practices. She also said they are excited to forge an important bond with the Library’s nearby Norman Mayer location. 

“Our Lakeview school has a great relationship with Smith Library, and we plan on creating a similar connection with our neighborhood location here in Gentilly,” Smith said. “We think it’s so important to get the students into the physical public library, because many kids, unfortunately, don’t get the opportunity to go into those spaces and explore and see what it’s about.” 

In September, Smith plans to host a Library card drive, with a goal to sign up all 300 Hynes UNO students for their own New Orleans Public Library cards. 

“I’m so happy to have our school library; it’s absolutely beautiful. But, we’re trying to create lifelong readers here, and that also means being lifelong Library users. So, we’re excited to deepen our relationship with the New Orleans Public Library in order to achieve that goal,” Smith said. 

Are you interested in building your school or classroom Library collection? Contact the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library to find out how you can receive free gently-used books for children and young adults of all ages. Visit friendsnola.org for more information.