'As Important as My Right to Vote': Central City Residents Grateful for Neighborhood Library
Originally located within the Mahalia Jackson Childhood & Family Learning Center, Central City Library first opened in November 2010 as part of an ambitious plan to break the “cycle of poor education and poverty” by providing educational resources to parents and their children at a young age.
Also in the center were a preschool, adult education services, a health clinic, a fitness center, and space for arts and music.
After almost 10 years, the Library outgrew the space and closed in the fall of 2019 before reopening a few months later in a brand-new building just down the street at 2020 Jackson Avenue. Located within the Allie Mae Williams Multi-Service Center, Central City Library is still part of a multi-use community hub designed to serve and improve the neighborhood.
Adam Beebe, the location’s manager, said being a part of the Allie Mae Williams Center is just one of the features that makes Central City Library a uniquely important part of the neighborhood.
“This community is of such significance to the history and culture of New Orleans,” Beebe said. “It’s an amazing honor and privilege for me to be the manager of Central City Library, where I also get the chance to work right alongside other organizations in our complex that are committed to social justice and to making our city stronger, healthier, and safer for everyone.”
Like any librarian, Beebe loves books and reading, but he said the main reason he wanted to work in a public library is because of the people he gets to help every single day.
“Our staff and patrons have become like family to me,” he said. “My goal is to ensure that everyone who comes to this Library has a positive experience and feels welcome, safe, and represented.”
According to Eric Walker, Bebee and the rest of the Central City staff are exceeding that goal. For the past eight years, Walker has been visiting the Library at least three times a week, primarily to use the computers, but also to connect with his neighbors.
Walker also frequented the old Central City Library and recalled eagerly awaiting the new building’s construction to be completed.
“When they were closed for a few months while they were getting this new building ready, I would go downtown to the Main Library on Loyola Avenue. But as soon as they opened up in this building, I came right back,” Walker said. “The staff here are really what keeps me coming, instead of going to the downtown Library, which is a lot bigger, and some people might think that means better.”
But not Walker, who said he prefers his neighborhood Library over the larger regional locations.
“I like it here. I like that it’s small and quiet, and the staff are really nice. If you need any help with anything, they want to work with you and get you what you need. They’re patient, and I appreciate that. It makes me feel good and comfortable to be here,” he said.
Like Walker, Keynin Joiner said he feels safe, welcomed, and at home inside Central City Library. Joiner moved to the neighborhood about four months ago, and was delighted to realize he would be living steps away from a library.
“I live right across the street, so I come here all the time,” Joiner said. “My 5th grade teacher got me hooked on our school library. When I got a little bit older, I started getting really active and involved with the public library. Pretty much ever since then, my neighborhood library has been an extremely important part of my life.”
Joiner grew up in the 9th Ward, but has since lived in neighborhoods throughout the city, and said he has found that living within walking distance of a Library is essential.
“I’ve used just about every New Orleans Public Library branch at one point or another,” Joiner said. “Having a library in your neighborhood is great, and it’s something I think is really important for a good quality of life. It allows you to get access to books, access to education, access to knowledge that’s extremely important. For me, to be able to get books and then get home in less than five minutes is really palpable.”
Lately, Joiner has been going to Central City Library every day, to use the internet and printing services while he works on his new business plan.
“The staff here is really helpful and welcoming. It’s new, it’s clean, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, the people here are nice,” Joiner said. “What’s not to like about that?”
Among those staff are Terrell Mims and Luke Sirinides, both of whom said they love working at such a small library because it allows them to connect more fully with the community.
“From my first day at Central City Library, I knew it was home,” Sirinides said. “Working with the kids and the seniors in the neighborhood makes going to work a joy.”
Mims has been working at Central City Library since it first opened inside the Allie Mae Williams Multi-Service Center in January of 2020.
“I love working here because we get to reach a different cross section of the city. A lot of our patrons are locals who have lived in this neighborhood all their lives and are seeing all these generational changes,” Mims said.
While all neighborhoods benefit from having a public library, Mims said their role in Central City serves a special purpose.
“In a neighborhood like Central City, which is definitely starting to gentrify more and more, having a visible and welcoming library is vital,” Mims said. “I think it’s so important for us to be able to show the residents who have been here forever that we’re providing resources for them to use now, and that we’ll always be here for them, no matter how much the neighborhood changes.”
Before transferring to Central City Library last year, Terrell worked at Alvar Library in the Bywater and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in the 9th Ward. He’s a lifelong New Orleanian who grew up in New Orleans East and said his favorite part of his job is being able to help and connect with people one-on-one.
“I like to do individualized computer help the most. Usually it’s working with seniors, which I find really rewarding. To be able to listen to what they’re having issues with and show them how to do it with patience and compassion, I like to think that can make a big difference in someone’s day-to-day life,” Mims said.
One of the people Mims and Sirinides both enjoy working with is Lillie Andrews who –– despite living in Gentilly –– makes the trek across town to visit Central City Library at least twice a week.
“I love how bright and airy it is, and I have a very close relationship with some of the staff here, so coming here is always worth it to me,” she said.
Now 76 years old, Andrews grew up in the Treme neighborhood and remembers a time when she wasn’t allowed to go into any library of her choosing, due to the city’s segregation laws. Now, she takes full advantage of the city’s 15-Library system, often visiting a different location every day of the week.
“Sometimes it’s Central City, sometimes it’s Norman Mayer, sometimes it’s Smith. I even go to the Jefferson Parish Libraries from time to time. I’ve probably been to every library in the area,” she said.
Andrews said her grandfather taught her to read when she was just four years old, and she’s been a book-lover ever since.
“I buy books all the time too, but I still utilize the Library because I don’t want it to go away,” Andrews said. “It’s the same way for voting. I vote in every single election, no matter how small or insignificant it might be. That’s how important the Library is to me. It’s as important as my right to vote.”
Andrews is a retired social worker who stays very active in the field, constantly connecting others with resources and volunteering to run programs to help her neighbors.
“I call myself a self-appointed public health community advocate. The Library is very important to my work, because now that I’m retired, I have to rely on public resources like the Library,” Andrews said.
In addition to all using the same Library, Joiner, Walker, and Andrews all have something else in common: their wish to spread the word about the Library.
“Imagine how great our city would be, if everyone used their library to its full extent,” Andrews said.
This article is part of the Library’s monthly Location Spotlight series, which highlights the unique stories of the individuals, families, and communities that use each Library location, and the staff that keeps them running. To have your Library story told, email email@example.com.