Our Area is Getting a New, Better Public Library

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Black River Branch library in southwestern St. Tammany Parish closed its doors Friday as staff members boxed up more than 12,000 books headed to the new Madisonville Library, the first new branch to be built in St. Tammany since the 1980s.

Madisonville gave the parish 1.5 acres on Mabel Drive across from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum to build the 15,000-square-foot library.In return, the parish gave the town the historic Old Madisonville Library on Cedar Street, which flooded during Hurricane Katrina and only briefly reopened before space was rented for the Black River Branch in a strip mall outside of the town.

“We hadn’t built a library that matters since the Slidell Library in 1989,” St. Tammany Parish Library Director Donald Westmoreland said.Construction began in April 2012 and will cost about $4.7 million, according to Westmoreland. Residents provided the library system with input seven years ago to describe a prototypical library, and many of those ideas have been incorporated into the library, he said.“This is the first expression for our library system of what a community library should be,” he said.A soft opening is planned in August and a grand opening in September.

Raised 14 feet, architect John Owens, along with Sizeler Thompson Brown Architects, said the view from inside has “a tree house effect.” Owens, a Madisonville resident, said the library takes advantage of its location near the Tchefuncte River.“It’s all about the view,” with the environment framed in every direction to “remind us where we are.

”The river is referenced in the carpet design and the curves of the recessed ceiling and lighting," Owens said.

Branch manager Tamie Martin said she opened the temporary Black River Branch in 2008 before moving to the Covington Library. She will return to head the new Madisonville branch, which will have five full-time and five part-time staff members. Several staff members will be familiar faces to Madisonville residents, including current Black River manager Kimberly Vincent and Lillie Butler, who was Madisonville’s longtime librarian at the Cedar Street site before moving to the Causeway branch. Butler will return to the town as its children’s librarian.Library staff members were busy Friday at the new location as hundreds of boxes of books were scanned, shelves assembled on the main floor and wires laid for computer outlets.

“We’ll be fully stocked when we open, but books will be flying off the shelves,”Martin said, anticipating visits from library patrons from the surrounding area.Martin said she’s excited about the many firsts the new facility will offer patrons and amenities that will allow for simultaneous activities that won’t interfere with normal library usage.

One first is the technology lab with 12 dedicated computers for instruction. These are in addition to the public computers for internet access and research on the library floor. Then there’s the library system’s first soundproof reading room that will be filled with magazines and comfortable reading chairs as well as two smaller study rooms. There is also a large meeting room with a divider; storage closet for tables and chairs; and a kitchen area with a refrigerator, sink and ice maker.

A “teen area” has cafe-style Internet tables, a large-screen television for computer games and smaller computer areas where youths can use the library’s free Internet access. A dedicated children’s room has a child’s door that is about 3 feet high with a window next to it and a window higher up for adults to look in during story times.

Madisonville patrons also will be able to enjoy expanded “big branch hours” as the library will be open Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said. The town may have lost its former library but has gained what she hopes other communities will want in their areas.“I’d love to see facilities like this in every part of St. Tammany.”

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