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Latter Branch Library: The Beauty of Books on St. Charles

This week, in honor of the American Library Association’s arrival in New Orleans for their Annual Conference and Exhibit, rather than visiting a used bookstore, I rode my bike to the Latter Branch Public Library on St. Charles. Sitting down at one of the long wooden tables in front of the fireplace looking out onto another palatial mansion across the street, I realize that I have made a few mistakes.

Firstly, I have been foolish to spend my time writing at coffee shops. Though they do make it easier to satisfy my embarrassingly persistent caffeine habit, even the most charming New Orleans coffee shop cannot come close to the atmosphere provided by this particular library. A converted mansion, the downstairs is full of antique furniture and encyclopedia-filled China cabinets. The colors are rich greens, reds, and golds; the wood, a dark, worn brown. On the left side of the building, there is a sunroom, though I don’t think I could get any work done if I could watch the streetcar roll by and the people outside. It would contribute to the already-dream-like quality of the building, and I am easily distracted by ambiance.

Up the staircase lies the reminder that this is a public library. The books are sheathed in crinkly plastic and organized on metal off-white shelving. The selection, though, is very good, with a film selection that makes me wonder why I have Netflix.

The Latter Branch Library through ongoing events is becoming a cultural center, as a library should be. They cater to all age groups and interests, from a memoir writers group to a tween movie club to a sewing circle. There is no arguing against the importance of libraries in my mind. Checking out a library book is easy, accessible, and cheaper than cable (it’s totally free!). While this library is clearly attempting to promote literacy and the library as an important community entity, the real beauty of the Latter Branch is the building itself.

Through its preservation, it serves as a reminder of a different time in New Orleans. The romance and charm that the city is known for is palpable in the downstairs parlors. To read and write there is to remember that words are important and powerful, and to really appreciate them, one must stop and sit by the window seat, turning pages while the streetcar buzzes by.

This weekend is the American Library Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibit. Stop by the exhibit at the Convention Center, and if you see a group of librarians on the town, buy them a round! I’m sure you’d get more than enough book recommendations to make it worth your while.