Several public libraries in New Orleans made a little bit of history on Sunday — by opening their doors.
Five branches — the Algiers Regional Library on Holiday Drive, the East New Orleans Regional Library on Read Boulevard, the Main Library on Loyola Avenue, the Norman Mayer Library on Gentilly Boulevard and the Robert E. Smith Library on Canal Boulevard — welcomed patrons on Sunday, the first time multiple branches have done so since the library system began operating 120 years ago, officials said.
It was the most immediate result of a 25-year, 2.5-mill property tax voters approved in May that will raise a projected $8.25 million a year for the library system. That’s on top of the library’s existing 3.14-mill tax, which generates about $9.5 million annually and will expire in 2021.
Library officials said that without the new money, expanded operating hours would have been out of the question, and half of the library’s 14 branches might have had to shut down.
The cash-strapped libraries have been financed in recent years through the old millage and a reserve account accumulated when many of the branches were closed after Hurricane Katrina. But that reserve would have run out midway through this year, leaving the library in the red.
With the new cash, six branches will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The rest will follow the same schedule, except they will be closed on Sundays.
The sixth branch serving patrons on Sundays will be the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue, the only library that was open on Sundays last year. It has been closed in recent months for renovations, but it will follow the seven-day schedule when it reopens in the spring.
The only library open on Fridays last year was the Martin Luther King Library on Caffin Avenue. Most other branches were open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
The extended hours are “one of the things people really wanted to see happen,” library system Executive Director Charles Brown said.
In celebration of the new hours, Sunday visitors to the five branches were treated to live music and refreshments.
On Wednesday, visitors will enjoy king cake and punch from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Martin Luther King branch, and storytime with crafts and live music from 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the Children’s Resource Center Library on Napoleon Avenue.
Special events will continue throughout the week at other library branches. For a schedule, visit neworleanspubliclibrary.org/~nopl/programming/01_16/celebratehours.pdf.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.