Known for boat tours of its mires and marshes, Slidell, Louisiana lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, not far from New Orleans. A friendly town, where colorful fiberglass statues of pelicans, including one painted like Van Gosh’s Starry Night, can be found in unexpected places, the population surged to its current 27,526 when the aerospace industry moved in, but you can still find solitude communing with turtles, alligators, feral pigs and great blue herons under the Spanish moss draped cypress trees of the wetlands.
Upon first encounter, one is hard put to find a straight line in the abstract facade of the 22,000′ Dorothy H. Crockett Library (DHC). The Slidell branch of St. Tammany Parish Library (STPL) is smartly bordered by foliage and shrubs and an enormous steel and stone sculpture. A ramp with railings inclines up to the tiled, red metal and glass entry where a sandstone bench affords a view through one of the circular cutouts in the outer brick of the structure.
Sliding doors lead to an upholstered seat and bulletin board in the foyer then through security gates to the lobby where well lit volumes behind the glaze of oversize blond oak display cases advertise a silent auction and the book sale and a matching rack holds educational and community brochures. Over the bubbler “Platypus Police Squad” and “Lunch Lady”, caricatures by illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, catch the eye. A nearby hallway accesses the meeting and storytime rooms conveniently located by the changing table equipped toilets. Both rooms have A/V hookups and the meeting space can be used for free by the community.
The interior of the building is dominated by gleaming dark wood paneling and overhead, slanted slats reach up to the raised ceiling. By one of the copiers, a cabinet houses dramatic shots from the Slidell Photography Club.
After corresponding via email, it was nice to meet Branch Manager Nancy Little who told me when DHC got new HVAC they did a one million dollar renovation which finished in 2014. For the six month duration of the project they had a spot in a nearby shopping center. She also mentioned a small second facility on the south side of town opened shortly before sadly being destroyed by Katrina, but they are hoping to fund a replacement.
At the wavy circulation station a helpful clerk gave me a plastic bag with the STPL logo filled with attractive bookmarks that give contact info and teach you to download ebooks, eaudiobooks, Hoopla films, Zinio magazines and Freegal songs as well as a postcard hyping Pronunciator, the language learning module. Hot titles scrolling across the big screen Overdrive computer encourage users to start downloading onto Kindles and Ipads.
They have pacs in the stacks, a conference room for up to 12 and a Louisiana Documents (they are a partial depository for the state) and Genealogy section.
The huge magazine section has cushioned chairs and black wire newspaper racks and there’s another lounging spot by the New Books. Between the tall nonfiction and fiction shelving, tables with outlets line the aisles.
DHC’s collection has about 147,000 items and the system allows a generous four week check out for books and CDs while magazines and DVDs go out for one week. STPL is financed by mil levy, has a foundation and customers can use any of the twelve locations in the parish (akin to a county).
I ran into Children’s Librarian Jen Martin in Kid’s where the checkout desk was decorated with a Valentine’s Day motif and a pink box and sign urged young patrons to write the reasons why they love DHC on little hearts. Pretty mottled blue and yellow end panels complement an alphabet rug and a stuffed armadillo looks down on the fray from a shelf top. A turnstile has flyers about drop in play dates and Library Day and parents sit comfortably on the squishy rainbow hued hassocks and couches, while tots have their own tiny furniture.
There are two AWE literacy stations and by a picture window looking onto the greenery outside is a long blue and gold bench appropriately inscribed “Secret Garden.” Bins of puzzles and an abacus keep youngsters occupied and they can attend five weekly storytimes, sketch their own roller coaster or go to crafternoons or storywalks at a local nature center.
Nearby, leaflets in Lucite containers promote a Japanese folk dance series, Scrabble Night and branch reading groups and a dual purpose stand accommodates face out CDs on top and audio books on the bottom. SCORE business seminars, software and internet classes, gardening tips, Dungeons and Dragons and exhibitions are just some of the adult programs.
Glowing circles enclosed by brushed silver illuminate the Teens only area while other overhead lighting form X’s. A young adult librarian officiates over this cozy corner where black and chrome barstools are reminiscent of ice cream cones and odd shaped tables hold trays of cards with lists recommending “Make Me Laugh”, “Fangs Anyone?”, “Harsh Realities” and “Future Tech” titles.
YA’s can sprawl in curiously designed armchairs on a fuchsia and cyan carpet reminiscent of Picasso. Manga and comics are available and tempting offerings for teens include movies, cooking classes, a Lego Competition, a masquerade ball and a volunteer council.
DHC has wifi, 30 computers, scanners and a color copier. On the STPL web site you can peruse the newsletter or listen to residents’ oral histories or podcasts of Cajun music and favorite poems for children. The System is on Twitter and Pinterest and has a busy Facebook account where new entries show youths learning French and feature an upcoming opportunity to build newspaper forts.
K-12+ students can get online tutoring from HomeworkLouisiana (which gives assistance in Spanish and Vietnamese too) while adults can get personal help with resumes, applications, cover letters and interview preparation. A few examples of their many databases are Learning Express for test practice, a hobbies and crafts reference center and TrueFlix and ScienceFlix multimedia curriculum modules.
After finishing inside, I wandered through the surrounding plot of land. Near the staff parking out back, a vine covered shelter is mostly used by employees eating lunch. A park to the right of the building boasts curved concrete seats with a round table on a mud free cement pad and a picnic table under an orange canvas sail-like sunshade. Trellises support floral growth and a short gravel path meanders through the geometrical shapes of wood framed planters holding lemon thyme and medicinal tea in the culinary and butterfly garden jointly sponsored by the Friends of the Slidell Library and the LA Master Gardeners.
What a boon to the inhabitants of this unique region!