The Times Picayune
LENDING A HAND
Visiting librarians check out ways to help their host city
Thursday, June 29, 2006
By Brian Friedman
It was just past lunch time, and Tom Abbott was already on his third T-shirt of the day. His hands dirty and his brow wet with sweat, Abbott was not the picture of the stereotypical librarian.
"I wanted to be outside working in the garden, which I love," said Abbott, team leader of a crew of 11 other librarians from across the country who on Friday were doing some restorative landscaping outside the Cita Hubbell Library in Algiers Point.
In town for the American Library Association convention, Abbott and his team raked leaves, spread mulch and repainted the iron fence surrounding the library, one of a myriad of service projects occurring all over the city in connection with the convention.
"Librarians are special people," said Abbott, 57, dean of the University of Maine's Augusta campus library. "We're very altruistic, and we care a lot about our world and our friends. These people were hurting, and we decided we wanted to do something."
With the visiting librarians in town, the New Orleans Public Library also took the opportunity last weekend to celebrate the grand opening of a new temporary branch on the grounds of the Algiers Regional Library.
The temporary branch, housed in a trailer donated by ProQuest Information and Learning of Michigan, sits in the parking lot of the storm-ravaged library building at 3014 Holiday Drive. It will offer access to computers as well as to popular fiction and periodicals, said Linda Santi, director of community awareness for New Orleans Public Library.
The opening "means a great deal," Santi said. "Although the Hubbell branch has been there for the community, it's a smaller building, and it's less than what the Algiers community is used to having."
The opening of the temporary branch will be particularly helpful in meeting the area's computer needs, Santi said. "People are using computers to update their résumés, to handle insurance issues and to communicate with relatives in other parts of the country who used to live down the block," she said. "So the ability to have this temporary library that offers more computer access is critical to the community."
Working hard to get branches reopened and services restored after Katrina, New Orleans Public Library officials were thrilled to get some help from their colleagues around the nation.
"Everybody's been wonderful," said Seale Paterson, librarian at Hubbell, one of the first branches in the city to reopen after the storm, "and the library's going to look fabulous. It's just a great help, because it's hard for us to get (the city's Department of) Parks and Parkways out to do the maintenance when they don't have enough people or time."
The American Library Association gathering is the first major convention in town post-Katrina, serving as a litmus test for the city's hospitality industry. So far, so good, according to the librarians working at Hubbell.
"I have been so impressed by how welcoming everybody I have run into has been," said Pat Boze of Champaign, Ill. "Everybody in the hotels has been so friendly."
"The hospitality of New Orleans definitely shows through," Spagnolo said.
Few conventioneers knew exactly what they'd encounter when they arrived in New Orleans. "I know, rationally, that this couldn't have been true, but when the plane came in yesterday, I half-expected this whole place to be underwater," said Jeff Kosokoff of Boston. "That picture of a lake with some houses sticking out of it was still in my head."
Kosokoff, however, said he was pleasantly surprised by what he's seen so far, at least downtown, where many of the conventioneers are staying. "I've been down here a lot," he said, "and I'm actually amazed at how far you all have come. It's a pleasure to be back."
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Hours for the new temporary Algiers Regional Library branch have not been set. For information, visit www.nutrias.org.