Meet The Friends of the New Orleans Public Library
Since 1957, the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library have been supporting the Library’s mission to transform lives, enrich neighborhoods, and preserve history.
Dixon Stetler has been at the helm of the organization for six years, during which time she has almost tripled their annual funding gift to the Library, which goes towards annual summer reading programs, literary festivals, teen and adult skill-building workshops, and more.
“Our mission is to support the Library in whatever capacity is needed. City funding pays only a portion of the New Orleans Public Library’s expenses,” Stetler said. “Our funds bridge the gap by underwriting critical New Orleans Public Library programming, services, and more.”
The Friends also award scholarships to librarians seeking advanced degrees and even provided Library staff with proper personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies at the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“We aim to expand the Library’s scope through dollar gifts, program support, and advocacy. Our board, staff, and large group of volunteers give their time, energy, and financial support to the Library,” Stetler said. “We’re here to step up to the plate, be advocates, and make sure the Library has what it needs to thrive as the vital community institution that it is.”
In addition to sponsoring Library programs and services, the Friends have their own mission to provide books to every person in the greater New Orleans area that wants one.
“We give away over 200,000 books to teachers, senior centers, shelters, hospitals, and prisons,” Stetler said. “We also provide free books to the over 200 Little Free Library stewards in Orleans Parish. Our intent is to get as many books into as many hands as possible. We care about community and about sharing knowledge on a very local level.”
One of those recipients is Lauren Landry, a teacher at Jefferson Parish’s Marie Riviere Elementary School. When Landry encountered research suggesting the size of a home library correlated with high academic achievement – even for students who face traditional barriers to success – she started an initiative at her school to provide books to the entire student body, free of charge. In order to do so, however, Landry needed books, and lots of them.
Landry reached out to the Friends after seeing a social media post about free books for teachers and got far more than she expected.
“Upon explaining our mission, the Friends invited me back to collect as many free boxes as I could fit in my minivan! I actually shed tears of joy that day, as well as during other encounters with the Friends. I’m in awe of the magnitude of their contributions and in thinking of the impact these books would have,” Landry said.
And that was only the beginning.
Through the Friends’ generosity, Landry said she has been able to provide a total of about 30 books to each of the school’s students. Her goal is at least 80.
“We are well on the way to achieving that target number, and it would be impossible without the donations of the Friends,” Landry said. “Teachers are not always able to see the impact they are having on students’ lives but giving these books to kids and knowing the difference they make for kids in both the short- and long- term makes the impact tangible.”
Linda Prout has been volunteering with the Friends for about 15 years and said it’s experiences like Landry’s that keep her coming back.
“As a retired teacher, I love that FNOPL not only helps the Library locations and librarians with their needs but also contributes to spreading literacy through donations, partnerships, and more.” Prout said. “Above all, I appreciate the role the Friends play in promoting the love of books and reading for the children in New Orleans. It’s important because your first ten years you learn to read, and the rest of your life you read to learn.”
For Landry, the Friends’ success in that area is undeniable. But, she said, their impact goes beyond their donations.
“On a personal note, every interaction I have had with the Friends volunteers has been joyous and full of love,” Landry said. “These are people who share my love of books and reading and who are out to share that love with strangers.”
The Friends’ main source of funds is the Carriage House Book Shop, located behind the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue.
“The Carriage House is a community in and of itself,” Stetler said. “We have some people that come every time the beautiful barn doors are open. One gentleman rides his bike from the Lower 9th Ward twice a week. It is a wonderfully different experience of book shopping that is very New Orleans in flavor. New selections are constantly being added, well behaved dogs are permitted, and when a Dr. John song comes on the radio, we all dance.”
The Carriage House is open every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10am-2pm. Visit friendsnola.org for event details and information on how you, too, can become a Friend of the New Orleans Public Library.