Stories from the New Orleans Public Library

HANGING OUT AT THE NOPL

I’ve been doing part of my internship at the New Orleans Public Library on Tulane and Loyola Avenues in New Orleans’ Central Business District.  I’m learning a lot of interesting things.  

You find interesting things on the desks of librarians.
You find interesting things on the desks of librarians.

First, I want to disclose that I have an addiction to books, so I buy books. Because of this, I’ve never seen a reason to go to a library. I’m learning how wrong I was! Libraries are great for a number of reasons. First of all, they are great because I can try books risk-free. I can check them out, and if I don’t like them, I can return them.  

But there are so many other things going on at the library!  The reason I am at the NOPL is because some cities have hired social workers to work in libraries.  My school has allowed me to explore what being a social worker at the NOPL would be like.  It will never pay, our libraries don’t have a lot of funding, so I am volunteering and enjoying the experience.  One other student is trying to get a grant to hire someone part time, and I hope she succeeds.  

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Many of the people who come to the library use it as a charging station for their phones.

Many people who are experiencing homelessness use the library.  Many people recently released from prison use the library. The NOPL where I am working has YMCA Literacy training on site.  The library has computers that people can use for free who don’t have internet access.  The library has community notices up about job training, job placement, and many other community opportunities. They offer computer classes.  

Free books were provided for an upcoming discussion.
Free books were provided for an upcoming discussion.

But the NOPL exists for EVERYONE.  So, the library also has chess clubs, visiting authors (R.L. Stine was there a few weeks ago), book clubs, speakers, and other events.  In other words, libraries are very interesting places.  We hope to do a speaking series on several topics in the future.  

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People can study for the immigration test at the library.

I’ve met so many interesting people in my time at the library.  Here are some of their stories (the names have been changed):

Hal:  I was homeless for 17 days. I didn’t tell a soul. I was working, and I had an accident.  (He shows me his many scars). I had multiple surgeries and couldn’t pay my bills anymore.  I can’t work anymore because of my injuries.  After 17 days I got down on my knees and I prayed to God. I told Him that I did not like this situation and I asked Him to change it.  Within a few days I received notice that I qualified for disability.  Now I have an apartment of my very own.  My grandkids come and visit. I keep potato chips and other snacks for when they come over. I’m very close to my children now. I’m so thankful to God and all that He has done for me.  I still come here to visit my homeless friends, I will never forget them.

Paul:  Look at my key!  (He has a key around his neck).  I have my very own room now.  Did you know that I’m being asked to do a job with high security? I am in high demand because of my skills.  I have 9 years of college. I can play all musical instruments. I have perfect pitch.  The CIA wants to hire me and I can’t wait to get back to work.  God is good to me. I have a key to my very own room now and I get three meals per day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner!  All three!  I can’t believe my blessings!

Joshua:  “Please pray for me, I am ready to turn my life around. I want to go to college and change my life.  I took the Hiset (GED) and failed two parts. I’m re-taking one of the parts this Monday. Please pray for me because I know that God is on my side and He has a plan for my life. I want to be a social worker and help other people.  I know that eventually I will pass all of the parts of this test and I will not give up.  I just got my drivers’ license and I’m taking steps to improve my future.  Please pray for me. ” (Please pray for Joshua, he is 24).  UPDATE:  Joshua failed his last attempt at his Hiset, but he is not giving up!

Grady: I notice him earlier in the day, we make eye contact and I notice his beautiful smile.  I see him later and he has changed into a white shirt and black pants, his uniform as a server in a restaurant.  Grady used to be homeless, and even though he has a place now, he maintains his routine of going to the library and seeing his old friends.  He lived on the streets and saved his money for a deposit for an apartment.  He is proud of his children. He wants to return to operating a forklift, but cannot afford the training for his license.  When he first got a job he bought drinks and cigarettes for all of his homeless friends.  He has difficulting in knowing who to trust.  

I met three ladies today.  I made eye contact with one, who is quite beautiful.  She just found a job and she is looking for a place of her own to live.  Two other ladies approach. The first one is on fire to preach. She constantly quotes the bible.  Before Katrina, she had two cars and a big house. Now she has to take the bus, but she loves meeting people on the bus. She came to be introduced to the first lady by the other young lady in our group. This young lady wanted to connect the two ladies because she thought they would like each other. She says that networking is what it’s all about. She hopes to be a blogger. She has a stack of books about healthy eating.  I asked her to tell me her story.  She started studying for a trade, but something happened before she graduated. She doesn’t remember what happened. (I can tell it was probably a traumatic experience). She was living with someone who makes a good living and she had a child, but she was so depressed she could not get out of bed. She had to leave.  She weeps at the loss of custody of her daughter.  But someday she will “be whole again” and then she will be able to live with her.  She has a really sweet face. At one point, while one of the other ladies was talking, she put her head down and took a little nap. She woke up a few minutes later and said “now I feel very refreshed.”  

One morning as I approached the library, I made eye contact with a group of guys outside of the library. They were homeless. They told me that they were talking about Jesus and how good He is to them.  They asked me if I knew Jesus. I said yes I do.  They asked what I was doing there. I said I was a social worker in training and that I hoped I would find a job soon. They said if you know God, you know that He has a plan for you!  You should not worry, God has your back.  After we chatted for a few minutes, one of the guys said “can we pray for you?” I said certainly! So, we all held hands outside of the library and he said a very beautiful prayer for me. I felt honored.  

More stories to come!