East New Orleans Regional Library: A Community Pillar for 53 Years
When East New Orleans Regional Library first opened on Read Boulevard in 1968, it was the largest in the New Orleans Public Library system. In the five decades since, the Library has served as a pillar of the community, particularly during Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in the area, which was devastated by the storm.
Tangee Wall has been an active member of the New Orleans East community for the past 30 years and is at the helm of a number of neighborhood groups working to improve education, blight, commerce, and general quality of life.
“I’ve been working to help uplift New Orleans East since well before Katrina, and the Library has always been such an important partner for us,” Wall said.
From hosting community meetings, organizing day camps and after school activities, to simply providing reading materials and a pleasant and safe place to spend time, Walls said the Library has been beside her every step of the way.
“But especially after Katrina, the Library reopening was such a huge step for us to be able to start to really rebuild and come back. No neighborhood is complete without a library; and, when we got ours back, it was like ‘OK, we can do this,’” she said. “This has to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the city. When they opened up this big, new state-of-the-art Library at a time when our community had been living through and around so much destruction, that was a huge morale boost for us. It signaled a lot of change.”
One of the groups Wall heads is the Friends of Joe W. Brown Memorial Park and Louisiana Nature Center, a recreational area located next to the Library.
“We provided a lot of input when they were rebuilding the Library, which is something we really appreciated. We knew we wanted there to be a lot of windows, so that people could enjoy the natural beauty of the area, especially the children. We want them to know they deserve to spend time somewhere beautiful.”
Judy Guth also frequented East New Orleans Regional Library for many years before Hurricane Katrina. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Guth moved to New Orleans in the 1960s and has been coming to the Library ever since.
“I think libraries are so important. I went to the one in my neighborhood growing up, so of course when I moved to East New Orleans about 40 years ago, I found the closest one and that was that,” Guth said.
It’s frequent visitors like Guth that make Carolyn Bailey love her job so much. Bailey is a member of the Library’s maintenance team and has been working at East New Orleans Regional for almost eight years.
“People love coming to this Library, and I think it’s so great to be able to be around that every day. It’s somewhere people really enjoy being, and I feel lucky to work in a space like that,” she said. “I get to meet a lot of people, which I love. Important people, like council members and other politicians, but also just regular people in the community. But, sometimes that’s just as interesting.”
Bailey said she feels honored to work somewhere that means so much to the neighborhood, even if it’s not her own.
“I live on the other side of the river, so getting here takes me like 30 minutes most days. But it’s worth the ride. I love this branch, and I love working here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she said.
Abraham McFarland has been working at East New Orleans Regional for over two decades, and also said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For the past 22 years, I’ve enjoyed working at East New Orleans [Regional] Library, particularly because of its location and community support,” he said.
Working at this location both before and after Katrina, McFarland, like Wall and Guth, has seen first-hand how important the Library is to the neighborhood during its long road to recovery. The location was completely destroyed in the storm and it took seven years for the new Library to fully reopen.
Once it did, however, both Wall and Guth said they saw it as a turning point for New Orleans East.
“This neighborhood is somewhat isolated, so when the Library reopened, I was very excited,” Guth said. “The first time I came here, I remember being very impressed. It really is a beautiful and modern library, and I think the neighborhood is better because of it.”
In the years since the Library reopened, Wall said she has seen huge improvements in the area and credits much of it to the tireless work of community groups like hers, along with the support of the Library.
“People forget about us out here, which is why we roll our sleeves up and do the work ourselves. The Library staff, especially the manager, Shannon, are always so welcoming and want to do whatever they can help,” Wall said. “We have a lot of challenges ahead but the future looks bright in the East, and a big part of that is our wonderful Library.”
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 tell your Library story, email email@example.com.