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'I Absolutely Love it': Library's Books-by-Mail Service Delivers Joy

Vera Johnson, a frequent user of the Library's Books-by-Mail service, holds The Vanishing Half.

For as long as she can remember, Vera Johnson has loved to read.

“Ever since I was a little girl, from a very young age, I’ve always been fascinated by books,” Johnson said. “So when I had children of my own, of course I got them hooked on reading when they were young, too. Even the kids –– my grandchildren and great-grandchildren –– all love to read. Whenever there’s a birthday or a holiday, I will always give out books as gifts. We’re just a reading family.”

A lifelong bookworm, Johnson said she used to go to the Library as often as she could, but with age, getting there got harder and harder. 

“I’ve lived alone for quite some time now, and I don’t drive, so it’s difficult for me to get around. For the past few years, I haven’t been able to get to the Library as much as I would have liked, unless someone was around to drive me,” Johnson explained. 

However, all that changed in late 2019 when her daughter was visiting from California and the two of them took a trip to Nora Navra Library.

“I was looking at books, and she was off talking to someone at the desk. Then she came over to me and she said, ‘Mama, I signed you up for something, and I think you’re really going to like it,’” Johnson recalled. “And oh my, she was right.”

Her daughter had enrolled her in the New Orleans Public Library’s Books-By-Mail program, a service designed to assist Library cardholders who are unable to leave home due to mobility difficulties. 

“When they explained to me what it was, I was a little skeptical. But my goodness, it has been wonderful. I absolutely love it,” she said. “I was worried it was going to be complicated, but it couldn’t be simpler. I get my book in the mail; and, when I’m done reading it, I write down the next book that I want, put it back in the package, and send it off with my mail lady. And a few days later, I get a new book back in the mail. It’s incredible. I don’t even have to turn on a computer.” 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months later, Johnson said she was even more grateful to already be connected with the service. 

“At first, when nobody knew how this virus was spreading, they weren’t mailing any materials out,” she said. “Thankfully, my children stocked me up good with books so I wasn’t too bored. But, as soon as I could start checking books out again, I was so happy that I already knew how to use this program, so I could get my books again right away. And when the first order came, oh, I was so happy.”

Johnson said she typically goes through at least one book every week. Between her own personal collection and the Library’s, she said she’s rarely left without fresh reading material.

“And that’s just the way I like it,” she said, laughing. “I never want to be without something to read. Whenever I put a book in the mail to return it, that’s when I’ll start reading a book that I own. That way, while I’m waiting to get the next book I’ve requested –– which usually only takes a few days – I’ll still have a book to read. That way, I’m always reading.” 

Currently, Johnson is reading Britt Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half,” while she eagerly awaits her next package from the Library.  

“I just think it’s a wonderful program. So many of us, so many elderly people, we’re home all the time. We have nothing to do. But when we’re reading, we’re traveling. When we’re reading, we’re learning. When we’re reading, we’re exploring the world, time, and history,” she said. “And with this program, the Library is bringing that privilege back to those of us who live alone and can’t get out of the house much, or who don’t have the means to always be buying books. I will always be grateful for that.” 

Books-by-Mail is available to all residents of Orleans Parish over 18 years old who are unable to visit the Library due to medical or mobility issues. For more information, visit booksbymail.nolalibrary.org.