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Our Towns

Feature Story

Public Libraries in New Orleans (Louisiana)

Linda Hill takes Durst on a library tour.

Beyond New Orlean's familiar Mardi Gras party corridors lives one of the city's most vital civil servants -- Linda Hill, a librarian for 15 years at New Orlean's Main Branch Library. Her passion and commitment to the public library, however, have been challenged. Her private sector counterparts make significantly more money; the library system's hours are shrinking; and her acquisition budget for new books and materials hasn't increased substantially in over a decade. Hill refuses, however, to give up on the public library, an institution she says is an important gauge of any city's quality of life.

Hill's commitment to keeping the public library strong in her town is no doubt matched by hundreds of dedicated library professionals across the country who work at the the U.S.'s nearly 9,000 public libraries. As the millenium approaches, communities are recognizing the vital role the public library plays in helping us all move forward in the information age. According to the American Library Association, about half of the nation's public libraries offer users the opportunity to use the Internet, and a full 75 percent are expected to get connected to the net over the next two years.

Also worth noting, says the library group, is the emerging renaissance in public libraries. In the in the last five years, new main libraries have been built or renovated in San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, Oregon, and voters have approved new libraries for Little Rock, Arkansas, Oklahoma City, and Rochester, NY. Other interesting facts: A growing number of libraries, including Janesville, Wisconsin and Hartford, Connecticut, now offer coffee bars for their customers (but no sipping mochaccino's over the reference books, please) and about 80 percent of library funding comes from local taxes. About 20 percent comes from state funding, and less than one percent comes from federal tax dollars.

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Watch "Our Towns," the fourth Livelyhood special, airing on PBS nationwide beginning January 26, 1999 (check local listings).

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