Mid-City Library: ‘A Beautiful Balm’ for the Neighborhood
In 1963, iconic New Orleans architects Curtis & Davis built the headquarters for the Automotive Life Insurance Company at 4140 Canal Street. Fifty-three years later, a new tenant moved in: the New Orleans Public Library, which had previously been located on the first floor of the American Can Company building.
Mid-City Library first opened in June of 2007, inside an old shopping center on North Carrollton Avenue. It was the first of several temporary libraries funded by the Gates Foundation to open after Hurricane Katrina. However, the location’s history dates all the way back to 1902, when Andrew Carnegie donated $250,000 to build four New Orleans Public Library buildings.
Located near Gayoso Street, the Canal Library opened in August 1911. It closed in 1958, but the building still remains there today, currently home to Swan River Yoga.
The neighborhood was without a library for almost 50 years. When longtime Mid-City resident Linda Marshall Hill learned of plans to open one, she was thrilled.
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years; and, for the majority of that time, we did not have a library in this neighborhood,” Marshall Hill recalled. “When they first opened, I was so excited.”
A career librarian herself, Marshall Hill was working for the New Orleans Public Library when talks of opening a Mid-City location first started.
“I worked at libraries in Gentilly and Algiers, and at the Main Library for many, many years. But, there’s something different about having a library in your own neighborhood. I just love it. I really, really love it,” she said.
Now retired, Marshall Hill cherishes the time she gets to spend inside the Library walls, connecting with staff and her community.
“The public library is my favorite institution. It’s the one place that people can go to learn and have fun and advance themselves, with there being no charge whatsoever to them, and where everybody is welcome,” she said. “The Library is all about doing good for the community, and I really feel that when I come into this location.”
In addition to being close to home, Marshall Hill said the Mid-City Library staff is what keeps her coming back.
“I appreciate the staff so much. They are really a very helpful group, and I think they’re one of the primary reasons why being in here is so comfortable,” she said.
Shant Aharonian, Toan Tran, Brian Morin, and Cathy Harbison make up the current Mid-City Library team. Robin Goldblum is the location’s manager but will be stepping into a new role as NOPL’s adult programming librarian in December.
“What I’ve loved about working at Mid-City Library is the beauty and people that surround us,” Goldblum said. “The Library staff work together to provide a meaningful experience for our community; and, in turn, we have a mutually respectful relationship because we get to enjoy and lift one another up and provide great customer service, which includes Library access, information, and a space for meeting others.”
One of Mid-City’s unique features is its Seed Library, which Morin established in the summer of 2017. Through the service –– which is sponsored by the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library –– cardholders can choose from 400 kinds of vegetable, flower, and herb seeds for free. Plus, they have access to Morin, who loves being able to help people plan their gardens and hear their success stories.
Tran, Harbison, and Aharonian all said they love being part of the Mid-City community, providing valuable resources to their neighbors and getting to work alongside one another.
“I like the idea of being a helper and being a cooperative member in our community,” Aharonian said. “To provide equitable service and access to technology to those who may have no other means to it, and to be a public space that is inclusive and welcoming to all walks of life.”
“I like working at Mid-City Library because of our wonderful patrons, many of whom tell us how happy they are to have a library in their neighborhood,” Harbison said.
“My absolute favorite thing about my job here is working with the best people, my co-workers, and the people who use this Library,” Tran said.
Two of those community members include Anne Rolfes and her 10-year-old daughter Myla. The two visit Mid-City Library almost every week, which is just down the street from their house.“I love the Library because they have so many books, especially graphic novels,” Myla said. “Each time you read a book it’s like you’re going on a trip yourself.”
For her mother, having the Library within walking-distance is a blessing.
“To me, the Library is a miracle,” she said. “Can I really pick up my phone, place an order for a book, and then have it magically appear just a few blocks from my house at the Mid-City location? I’m always grateful.”
But, Rolfes said the Library is more than just a convenient place to pick up reading materials. It is also a place she goes for “inspiration and to enrich her soul.”
“The Library is the gift that never stops giving,” she said. “In the middle of COVID and political division and hard things in life, the Library is a beautiful balm.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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