From its earliest days, the Library has not been simply a place where New Orleanians come to read and borrow books. It has also been a source of programs designed not only to attract new patrons but also to educate and entertain the community it serves. Over the years, the Library has taken its place in the cultural life of the city and has sponsored free concerts, theatrical performances, films, art exhibits, educational programs, seminars and displays, and dozens of other venues that have enriched the lives of people from all walks of life and all corners of the city--and beyond.
The loan of the galleries for exhibition, and notably for the educational exhibit of the southern educational convention, has been largely instrumental in adding to the number of those interested in the library's welfare. The special art exhibit in connection with the last named convention was held in the ladies' reading room. The art committee, in order to render the room more attractive, carried out a scheme of wall decoration, which is permanent, and will add greatly to the attractiveness of the ladies' reading-room. [Annual Report, 1898]
In October 1940, NOPL created this display for the Food, Home & Appliance show held at the Municipal Auditorium.
As in the year 1900, the ladies' reading-room has been used by the ERA Club as a place of meeting. The subjects discussed have attracted large audiences, and now much benefit has resulted from the use of the room. The Artists' Association has utilized the walls of the ladies' reading-room for three exhibitions of pictures, in which many valuable works of art have been presented to a large number of visitors, thus acting as a useful advertisement of the library. [Annual Report, 1901, p. 1]
In 1961, the Friends of New Orleans Public Library sponsored a series of baroque music concerts which attracted packed audiences to the new Central Library. The photograph of this Bach concert is undated but took place during this period. (Seated second from right on the front row is Arthur Q. Davis, one of the architects of the Central Library.)
Many of our borrowers have been induced to come to the library as the result of visits paid to their schools. The courtesy of Superintendent Easton and the kindness of some of the teachers has enabled us to have whole grades at a time pay a visit to the children's room. In this manner the pleasures and benefits to be derived from the Library were made known to hundreds of children who might not otherwise have even entered the building. [Annual Report, 1909, p. 11]
The Friends of New Orleans Public Library was organized on a city-wide basis in 1955 and reorganized in 1978. For nearly forty years, the Friends have worked effectively and tirelessly to support and promote the Library through fund-raising, programming, and sponsorship of many Library programs and activities. In 1961-1962, the organization conducted a book drive to solicit gift books and monetary donations for the purchase of new materials. From left are Eugene Weigand, Mrs. Ralph J. McDonough, City Librarian Jerome Cushman, and author Harnett T. Kane, who served as President of the Friends for many years.
To meet and overcome our local conditions, which include in addition to the characteristic social attitude of our people, the great area of our city, offset by so few branch libraries, the temptations of a mild climate offering nine months of outdoor life, the easiness of earning a living without that keenness of competition that compels the commercial worker and the mechanic to read and to study, we must, more than any other large city, through publicity, through advertisement, secure the opportunity to make the library the powerful factor for the advancement of our community that it should be. [Annual Report, 1920, p. 8]
This poster announced a series of lectures on Afro-American History held during the spring and summer of 1969.
The newspapers have liberally assisted us in popularizing the circulation of certain books; The Times-Picayune publishes a weekly list on the Woman's Page, and a monthly list of the most notable additions to the circulation department. The Item publishes a monthly list of books on Business. The States publishes a monthly list on Arts and Crafts and all of them have published frequent interviews with the librarian on topics of interest to the library and its borrowers. [Annual Report, 1922, p. 12]
Among the programs offered in 1971 was "Crescent City Kaleidoscope," featuring alternating talks on current affairs and film presentations. Shown here is a brochure announcing the January schedule.
A very vigorous effort was made to reach the workers in the great business institutions and factories of our city. Ninety such institutions were visited during the year, the purpose of our work explained to the president or manager, and carefully prepared placards and posters telling of the library's resources and the manner in which these resources could be employed were posted in conspicuous places through the various buildings. Many special lists were compiled and mailed to various business bodies, one of the best of these on "Banking and Financing" was sent in sufficient numbers to reach every employee of every central and branch bank in the city. [Annual Report, 1923, p. 8]
Programming for mystery lovers at the Nix Branch, early 1970s.
"Library Week" observed April 10-15 was the high point of the publicity for the year. A proclamation by Mayor Maestri, pictures, cartoons, and stories by all local papers, radio talks, announcements by ministers and chairmen of organizations and a large electric sign donated by Public Service, focused attention on the Library. The Library Journal carried a long article about Library Week and reproduced the cartoon which appeared in the Picayune. [Annual Report, 1939, p. 26]
New Orleans Weavers Guild demonstration and exhibit, mid-1970s. Art and crafts exhibits were a popular form of programming during the 1970s, and the second floor "bridge" continues today to serve as an informal gallery for the work of students and local artists.
The people of New Orleans have been constantly reminded of the services of the Library by newspaper and radio publicity. Regular feature columns which have been established are the 'Select list of new books' published on the literary page of the Item and Picayune; the 'Readers' Guide' preceding the list in the Picayune; 'Questions and Answers' on juvenile books which was run most of the year on the Children's Page of the Picayune, and was superseded late in the year by juvenile book reviews conducted by the Children's Department. All papers have been most cooperative in publishing feature articles about library services and news articles about acquisitions, changes, etc. Among the library articles published were stories on books dealing with hobbies, personality development, interior decoration, the strife in Europe, improving one's appearance, swimming, baseball, building, travel and special holidays. There were illustrated stories about the Children's Theatre, repairs and renovations of library buildings, bookmarks left in books, and the 'inner workings of the public library'. An article on the value of old books brought many inquiries from citizens of the city and the surrounding territory. [Annual Report, 1939, p. 26]
The Black Experience Film Festival was a 1976 Black History Month event. NOPL's annual recognition of Black History Month traces its origins as far back as 1945, when "Negro History Week" was celebrated at the Dryades Branch.
Early in the spring of 1939, time for a weekly fifteen minute broadcast was secured from radio station WWL. A committee of five staff members prepared the scripts and made arrangements for the programs. Two series of programs consisting of sixteen broadcasts were given by staff members, students of dramatic schools, and members of little theatre groups. The programs were discontinued when a commercial program was given the time allotted to the Library, but it is hoped that this activity can be resumed early in 1940. [Annual Report, 1939, p. 26-27]
Programming in 1975 included a Shakespeare Film Festival and additional film series focusing on travel, women, country music, fine arts, and business as well as a series of experimental films. That year the Library also offered chamber music concerts and lectures on securities and investing, plants and gardening, enriching your marriage, women's interests, topics relevant to retired persons, and New Orleans. The Shakespeare festival was repeated in 1976.
This Center was shortly thereafter recognized by the local Office of Civilian Defense and began a cooperative program designed to give New Orleans a clearing house for official information on a national and local scale. [Annual Report, 1942, p. 7]
A performance of Bertolt Brecht's Jungle of Cities by the Third Story Company, 1976. Two more experimental plays, by local playwright Charles Kerbs, were also presented that year. Also on tap in 1976 were weekly "Women's Night" forums addressing women's issues and interests, a weekly lunch hour film festival, a Black Experience Film festival, performances by Dashiki and the Free Southern Theatre, and music at all branches by Danny Barker and his band
Particularly successful was the 'Books Bring Adventure' program, jointly sponsored with the New Orleans Junior League and presented over Station WDSU. This was a transcribed series featuring outstanding books for children, and it was awarded the first prize in the ninth annual competition sponsored by the American Exhibition of Educational Radio Programs. [Annual Report, 1945, p. 14]
On May 2, 1976, NOPL sponsored "The More Than Open House," a Sunday afternoon of continuous programming on all three floors of the Central Library designed to highlight the Library's varied resources. On the third floor were films, and talks on the mafia, Louisiana folk and native art, and how to research the history of your house. On the second floor, Latin music, a dance performance, and a talk on wilderness camping in Southern Louisiana. And on the first floor, poetry readings, a play by the Ethiopian Theatre, and the vegetarian cooking demonstration by Joe Middleton of Lee Barnes Cooking School shown in this photograph.
A different type of cooperation was developed with the Junior League in a "High Adventure" radio program. Miss McGinity, Miss Ruckert, and the Acting Librarian served as a book advisory committee, assisting with the books selected for acting over the air by the school children of New Orleans. [Annual Report, 1945, p. 15]
A 1977 Bunny Matthews poster advertising the Library's "Arts Sandwiched In" program, which featured lunchtime films, music, and theatrical performances in the Central Library auditorium. During 1978 and 1979, the Library sponsored similar programs called "Theatre Sandwiched In" and "Films Sandwiched In."
The Teen-age Book Reviewers, sponsored by the New Orleans Council of Parent-Teacher Associations and the Public Library, in conjunction with local high schools. The President of this organization, an enthusiastic library booster, approached the staff with suggestions for inaugurating a Saturday morning book discussion for teen-agers, who had no such activity in New Orleans. Plans as worked out have included such weekly meetings at the Main Library, with each school assigned a particular date to prepare the program, and the discussion has been broadcast over station WDSU, 10:00-10:30 A.M. A special feature of each program is the introduction of a distinguished guest connected with the book world, and during the current year authors identified with this region have included Harnett T. Kane, Frances Parkinson Keyes, W. Adolphe Roberts, Edward F. Murphy, and Dagmar Renshaw LeBreton. To popularize the program further each school library is presented by local bookstores with a selection of books chosen by popular vote, and those students appearing on the broadcast are given passes to one of the downtown theatres. [Annual Report, 1947, p. 11]
In 1976, the Library was awarded a $330,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a three-year-long series of educational programs on the politics, economics, arts and other aspects of New Orleans. Christened "Jambalaya," this ambitious and highly successful project ran from 1977 to 1980 and presented 194 programs ranging in content from architecture to Zulu. NOPL was one of only three public libraries chosen by NEH to become a "Learning Library," the others being the Boston and Chicago public libraries. This poster advertised several of the 1977 lecture series. Additional Jambalaya posters are on display in the Louisiana Division.
Great Books Discussion Groups were launched on a city-wide basis, promoted by the Library under the honorary sponsorship of a number of distinguished citizens. Some thirty leaders were trained by the Great Books Foundation, and before the year's end thirteen groups had been organized in New Orleans, each with twenty to forty members. [Annual Report, 1948]
New Orleans journalist and playwright Dalt Wonk wrote an original play, A Bitter Glory, for the Jambalaya program, presented in January 1977.
The Friends organization, a 1955 newcomer, conducted so many activities that an adequate report would take many pages. High lights would include the 100,000 letters to parents distributed through the schools, the membership campaign enlisting over 7,000, the speakers' bureau, the weekly radio program during October, November and December, and the city-wide campaign throughout the year by press, radio, TV and letters--to alert New Orleanians about library problems. [Annual Report, 1955]
A flyer for the first Jambalaya lecture series, "Behind the Mask of Mardi Gras," an eight-week exploration of the "bizarre festival" of Carnival, April 12-May 31, 1977.
A series of free concerts was held at the Main Library, with seven highly successful programs during 1961, and a gift book campaign was conducted by the Friends, resulting in many gift volumes and well over $1,000.00 for special book donations. [Annual Report, 1961]
Playwright Lillian Hellman was one of Jambalaya's stars. She returned to the city of her birth in November, 1977 for a Jambalaya interview at Gallier Hall. This letter, one of several among the Jambalaya records housed in the City Archives, finalizes arrangements shortly before her arrival in New Orleans. Among other Jambalaya literary luminaries were Cleanth Brooks, Tom Dent, John William Corrington, Maxine Cassin, Shirley Ann Grau, and Peter Cooley.
The first "Meet the Writers" luncheon at the Royal Orleans Hotel featured Pulitzer-prize winning New Orleans author, Shirley Ann Grau. This sellout luncheon-talk received favorable editorial comment locally and reached the attention of the New York publishers who immediately offered their support to the series. Arthur Hailey, author of the best-seller Hotel, and Berry Morgan, author of the prize-winning novel Pursuit, were scheduled for this luncheon series in early 1967. [Annual Report, 1966]
One of the most popular of the Jambalaya programs was an interview, conducted by journalist Don Lee Keith, with playwright Tennessee Williams. In his first public appearance in New Orleans, Williams read from several of his works and the works of others and answered wide-ranging questions about his work and his experiences in New Orleans.
Extension '71 was what the American Repertory Theatre Company called its summer of professional drama in the library auditorium. Three plays were produced: Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and an original play by Maurice Kowalewski entitled Noteworthy. In addition to plays, drama classes for adults, teen-agers, and children were made available. [Annual Report, 1971]
Jazz historian Dick Allen (right) interviews New Orleans musician Allan Toussaint during a Jambalaya program, "Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s," April 20, 1978. The audio tapes made of Jambalaya programs, including this one, are preserved in the Louisiana Division and have been used by numerous scholars since the program ended.
Crescent City Kaleidoscope examined current topics through lectures and films. Weekly presentations, alternating local authorities as speakers and films, were made on contemporary issues of environmental pollution, drug abuse, urban planning, campus unrest, women's liberation, black opportunities, and crime. The series was popular and will be continued. [Annual Report, 1971]
In October and November 1990, the Business and Science Division sponsored a series of Brown Bag Business Forums, weekly noontime lectures on current business practices and local politics. Programs included business with the Japanese, Louisiana politics, starting a small business, getting export assistance, and new personal income tax laws.
During the 1990 celebration of National Library Week, the American Library Association called upon libraries nationwide to join together to sponsor a "Night of 1,000 Stars" in order to call attention to the importance of family literacy. On the evening of April 25, NOPL, along with hundreds of other libraries across the country, hosted celebrities who read their favorite books to assembled guests. Among the participants was singer Charmaine Neville.
Art and poetry contests made many new friends for the library. Joe Ireland, a published poet and head of the Gentilly Branch Library, read a total of 2,700 poems and came up with winners in two poetry contests, one restricted to junior and senior high school students, and the other open to all New Orleans residents. Art contests (graphic, photography, high school art, elementary school art, and a thematic exhibition--our city) judged by local university art professors, provided handsome exhibits and exposure for talented amateur artists. [Annual Report, 1972]
Other "Night of 1,000 Stars" activities were held throughout National Library Week. Here jazzman Danny Barker performs at the Central City Branch.
A revived interest in poetry brought poetry reading to the Central Library--poetry read by members of the New Orleans Poetry Forum. After two successful series of readings the NOPL printed and published NEW ORLEANS POETS: ANTHOLOGY, a 62 page book representing the best poetry read in the two series. Although not a runaway best seller--yet--the book is being sold in several local bookstores. [Annual Report, 1972, n.p.]
In connection with Black History Month, 1991 and the opening of the traveling exhibit "A Stronger Soul Within a Finer Frame: Portraying African-Americans in the Black Renaissance," members of the Living History Institute acted selections from the works of Black Renaissance authors Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. Shown here are actors Stephen Alfred and Ralph Joseph.
Library personnel appeared on WVUE-TV every month on Metro-Service Report, a seven minute public service segment which is part of the noon news. Telephone response after each appearance indicates that we are reaching a previously untapped public. [Annual Report, 1974]
An NOPL-sponsored performance of the Kumbuka African dance troupe at the State Palace Theater during Black History Month, 1992. The Kumbuka dancers have delighted audiences, both young and old, at many Library programs in recent years.
This Bicentennial February exploded with a Black Experience Film Festival at four library locations, a lecture series at one branch, Dashiki and Free Southern Theatre performances, and Danny Barker and his jazz band at all library locations. [Annual Report, 1976]
In 1992, the Modern Poetry Association and the American Library Association, in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities, selected NOPL as one of twenty national sites for Poets in Person, a reading, listening, and discussion series on modern American poetry. The five-week series, conducted by Tulane University English professor Dale Edmonds, was presented during March and April. That same year, the library also developed Speaking of Poetry, a six-part poetry discussion series for the fall, highlighting the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich. This successful program was repeated the next year; Speaking of Poetry II: New American Poets of the 90s included appearances by local poets Peter Cooley and Brenda Marie Osbey (formerly of the NOPL staff), who read and discussed their works. Shown here are Peter Cooley (seated) and Dr. Edmonds at the Latter Branch.
The Friends of the New Orleans Public Library was reorganized during 1978. Activities included recruiting members; underwriting children's library programs; sponsoring the Free University of New Orleans (a series of adult non-credit courses) and Arts Information (a monthly publication for the local art community); and planning a recognition program in 1979 for library volunteers. [Annual Report, 1978]
Black History Month programming during February 1995 included a forum at the East New Orleans Branch entitled "Black Business in New Orleans Before and After the Civil Rights Movement." Among the participants were civil rights attorney Lolis Elie and restaurateur and community activist Leah Chase.
Working with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, on March 19, the division held its first Books Mean Business Breakfast. Thirty representatives from insurance companies to realty companies and from temporary services to healthcare services attended. After breaking into small sections, the B&S Division staff presented the various services and business information accessible to local companies. [Annual Report, 1991, p. 2]