The new East New Orleans Regional library has settled into a brisk routine, churning out 600 library cards a month and overseeing a perpetual waiting list to get on its 40 computers, branch manager Lila LaGraize said. "This is the only library in the east. Do you know how busy we are?" LaGraize asked.
The two-story, 27,000-square-foot facility, at 5641 Read Blvd., is a far cry from the double-wide trailer that housed the library for three years. Swamped by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the rebuilt branch opened in April on the same site overlooking Joe Brown Park.
It was the last of four new libraries to reopen on the east bank of Orleans Parish this spring, and quickly caught on with local patrons who come in to fill out online job applications, check email, get help with homework or just browse the airy stacks, LaGraize said.
According to the 2010 census, fewer than half of the 70,000 residents of eastern New Orleans have access to the Internet at home. The library's computers and printers stay busy, LaGraize said, and computer classes are held in a dedicated lab.
Library circulation has jumped from fewer than 3,000 items a month in January to 13,000 items in July, said Jessica Styons, director of branch services. East Regional is on track to lend out as many as 100,000 items by the end of the year, she predicted. "It's really important, in an area that hasn't had a lot of services for a while since Katrina -- not just in terms of having information but being a place where the community comes together," Styons said.
A large downstairs conference room can be reserved for meetings, while another room upstairs is available on a first-come, first-served basis. A series of classes on entrepreneurship and a book club are in the works.
With about 60,000 titles, the library has strong selections of local history, best-sellers, CDs, fiction and cookbooks, LaGraize said. It also carries foreign-language children's books to serve the increasingly diverse population of eastern New Orleans, she said.
Librarian Ariel Farrar has reached out to local teachers, has held talent shows and is starting a teen advisory board this fall. "We are right across from Sci Academy," Farrar pointed out. "We have a really good relationship with the teachers there."
The library has five computers set aside for kids 12 and younger. "It's been very busy during summer reading," children's librarian Charlotte Laihonen said. "During the school year, we find we have a very brisk pace in the afternoons."
Delphine Joseph and Tiffany Rayford-Talbert bring a dozen 4- and 5-year-olds from the Children's Palace Learning Center to hear stories every Tuesday. In the carpeted children's area, the preschoolers can ooh and aah over picture books out of earshot of other patrons.
"We like to promote reading, and we want them to feel comfortable about coming here," Joseph said. Her students all have their own library cards and they love story time -- especially now that they don't have to crowd into the trailer, their teachers said.
"Now that they are in a building, the kids are more interested in books," Rayford-Talbert said.
"It's nice to be out of the box," Laihonen said.
By Annette Sisco, The Times-Picayune