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Cita Dennis Hubbell Library: A Neighborhood Treasure Since 1907

Hubbell Library opened on Pelican Avenue in 1907 at the Algiers Branch.

Nestled within the historic Algiers Point neighborhood, Cita Dennis Hubbell Library is almost always buzzing with activity and is widely considered one of the defining features of the community. 

The quaint, one-room building sits on Pelican Avenue and is the New Orleans Public Library’s oldest operating location. Originally called the Algiers Branch, it was one of five public libraries in the city established with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. Of those five, only two remain open today: Hubbell and the Children’s Resource Center Library on Napoleon Avenue. 

After first opening its doors on December 28, 1907, the Library quickly stole the heart of its community, including a little girl named Cita who would prove to be instrumental in the Library’s longevity. 

In April of 1966, the Algiers Branch was closed due to the building’s deteriorating conditions, including from damages due to Hurricane Betsy. The Library remained shuttered for years and there was talk of abandoning it completely, much to the neighbors’ dismay. 

Then, in the early 1970s, Cita Dennis Hubbell and a group of volunteers banded together to campaign for the Library’s renovations and reopening. Their actions proved successful, and on October 14, 1975, the Algiers Point Branch returned to its proper place on Pelican Avenue, quickly becoming a centerpiece of the tight-knit neighborhood once again. 

In the decades after, the Hubbell family did not walk away, but rather continued to raise money, campaign, and stand up for the beloved Library. After Mrs. Hubbell’s death in 2001, then-City Councilman Troy Carter proposed renaming the Library in her honor. 

In 2002, the building was officially rededicated as City Dennis Hubbell Library, as it is still known today. 

Cita’s husband, George Hubbell, and their daughter, Amy Hubbell, remain very active with the Library to this day. Amy heads the Friends of Hubbell Library group, and George is a frequent visitor and participant in the Library’s programming. Now 95, George lives directly across the street and still comes to visit as often as he can. 

“This Library is very special. All libraries are wonderful, but this one is so welcoming,” George Hubbell said. “Cita, my wife, was a tremendous person. I don’t know how I got so lucky. That was something that was very important to her. That this Library would be for everyone, and anyone would be welcome here.” 

George said he thinks many people in the neighborhood see Hubbell Library as a kind of home, which Amy said is true for her, too. 

“I’ve been coming here my whole life. It is absolutely a home to me,” she said. “I moved away from New Orleans for many years, and one of the things that drew me back was the Library. And my dad, of course, but I think if it weren’t for the Library, we both would have moved on after Katrina.”

While Amy said it’s an honor to have the Library bear her mother’s name and keep her memory alive, her reasons for loving it go deeper than that.  

“Algiers Point is a fantastic neighborhood, but we don’t have a community center or anything like that, and I think one of the reasons our community is so close is that we rally around the Library,” she said. “It’s a gathering place for us, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that it really is a glue that bonds our neighborhood together.” 

Amy and George both said the true credit should go to the Hubbell Library staff. 

“There’s always been amazing staff working here, all the way through,” Amy said. “Including –– and maybe especially –– the staff here now.” 

Led by manager Seale Paterson and assistant manager Chris Lorenzen, the staff is a common theme when you ask people why they love Hubbell Library, including Stephen Namisnak. Namisnak first visited the Library shortly after he moved to Algiers Point in 2018 and quickly became a regular. 

“The welcome is really strong here, and I think that’s why people are drawn to it,” he said “The staff is a big part of that. They aren’t just custodians of the Library. They’re not gatekeepers of some fortress of knowledge, they’re more like the doormen. They aren’t going to shush you or make you feel like you don’t belong here.”

Paterson has been working for the New Orleans Public Library for 22 years and has been the manager of Hubbell since early 2006. Lorenzen has been with the Library for just under a decade. Both said when they first started working here, it quickly became apparent how uniquely special this Library is. 

“It always comes back to the community,” Paterson said. “It’s such a small, friendly neighborhood and everybody knows everybody, which creates a really tight bond for all of us here.” 

Lorenzen said working at Hubbell makes him really feel like part of the community, despite living on the other side of the river.   

“It’s so personal here, we’re on a first-name basis with practically every patron that comes in, which I love,” he said. “I know more people in this neighborhood than I do in my own.”  

Beyond being a part of such a close community, Paterson and Lorenzen said working at a small, neighborhood-oriented library allows them to “really get to be librarians.” 

“I think at some of the bigger branches, you lose some of that,” Paterson said. “But here, because we know everybody so well, we’ll get a new book in and automatically think of someone who would probably want to see it.”

Paterson has been working for the New Orleans Public Library for 22 years and has been the manager of Hubbell since early 2006. Lorenzen has been with the Library for just under a decade. Both said when they first started working here, it quickly became apparent how uniquely special this Library is. 

“It always comes back to the community,” Paterson said. “It’s such a small, friendly neighborhood and everybody knows everybody, which creates a really tight bond for all of us here.” 

Lorenzen said working at Hubbell makes him really feel like part of the community, despite living on the other side of the river.   

“It’s so personal here, we’re on a first-name basis with practically every patron that comes in, which I love,” he said. “I know more people in this neighborhood than I do in my own.”  

Beyond being a part of such a close community, Paterson and Lorenzen said working at a small, neighborhood-oriented library allows them to “really get to be librarians.” 

“I think at some of the bigger branches, you lose some of that,” Paterson said. “But here, because we know everybody so well, we’ll get a new book in and automatically think of someone who would probably want to see it.”

They both called events “the bread and butter,” of Hubbell Library and are eager to return to in-person programming.  

“It’s a small neighborhood, which means that the only places to gather are either churches or establishments where we need to spend money,” Paterson explained. “So, we’re really the only place in the Point that’s a free, non-denominational meeting space, and we’ve really tried to make sure that people know that, and that everyone feels welcome. And, judging by the turnout of our events and how excited people are about them, I feel like we’ve accomplished that.” 

By providing a combination of high-quality events, a variety of materials and services, and a cozy place to spend time,  Paterson and Lorenzen said Hubbell is able to connect with people who otherwise might not use the Library.  

“It’s a really special thing to be a part of,” Lorenzen said. “I love working here, it’s fantastic to work somewhere that clearly means so much to people.”  

That sentiment comes to life through Diane Coleman, a local community historian on a mission to preserve the history of Walkertown, Jefferson Parish’s first African American neighborhood.  

Walkertown was founded in what is now Marrero by Carine Degree Walker in the 1920s. As a direct descendent of Carine and a former Walkertown resident herself, Diane has always been interested in the history of the area. She started mapping the genealogy of its residents in 2001, but the project really took off in 2012, when she went to Hubbell Library to vote and met Lorenzen.  

“The project was getting big, and I knew I really needed some help with the computer stuff, because I don’t have many computer skills at all. So, I asked the Library staff for information and they told me about a computer class. I enrolled, and that’s where I met Chris,” Coleman said. “And from that day on, Chris just took me under his wing. He’s so patient and kind, and I truly don’t know what I would have done without him.” 

Coleman started going to Hubbell twice a week to get computer help from Lorenzen, who taught her how to make PowerPoint presentations, use a flash drive, format her research for publication, and even helped her build an online museum. 

“It’s called Walkertown Historical Museum, and I could never have set it up without Chris. It’s on Facebook, which is wonderful, because my whole mission is to build the community history of the town. And having it on Facebook allows other people to contribute to that history,” she said. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started last spring, Coleman stopped going into the Library but continued to keep in touch with Lorenzen from afar, who made himself available whenever she needed help. 

“I’ve only been back inside a few times since the virus started, because I am very cautious, and Chris has been so accommodating. But being in here, it’s like a cozy blanket. The building is very inviting, and the entire staff, not just Chris, are so generous and helpful. This Library is such a blessing to the community, and to me,” Coleman said. 

For Amy and George, knowing that people like Coleman, Namisnak, and many others feel so strongly connected to this Library is all the reward they need for their family’s decades of work. 

“It means an enormous amount to me to see the work that my mother did live on and to be a part of it myself. I’m sure it would bring her immense joy to know that the Library is still so important to this community and to our family,” Amy said. “I know, personally, the work I’ve done with the Library is my proudest accomplishment, and I know she was so proud of the work she did here, too.” 

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 impact@nolalibrary.org.