Update: City Library Director Charles Brown said the air conditioning at Nix was fixed Saturday (October 6) and the branch has resumed its normal hours.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Nix Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, in Riverbend, has been without working air conditioning since Sept. 17, but a bravely uncomfortable staff of six has kept it open for grateful library patrons each day since Sept. 24.
The air-conditioning compressor failed three Mondays ago, forcing the branch to close for four days. But City Library Director Charles Brown says branch manager Damian Lambert suggested re-opening on a reduced-hours schedule of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“He and his staff have a major commitment to customer service,” Brown said in admiration.
It’s hot and humid outside during those hours, of course, but not as sweltering as it is inside. So the front and back doors stay open and large floor fans whirl by each opening.
Lambert and his staff have dropped the usual dress code – shorts and T-shirts are now permissible with the digital temperature reading on the thermostat behind the librarian’s desk regularly topping 90 degrees. They also take rotating breaks to cool off by going outside, and Lambert keeps a stash of ice cream sandwiches and popsicles in the freezer.
“I just feel bad for the people who are still coming in and working and grateful that they’re willing to do that,” said library patron Josh Lichtman, who stopped by Wednesday to pick up some books he’d ordered from the main branch.
Brown says the new compressor will cost about $6,000, which isn’t a problem since a tax increase was approved by voters in 2015 to address rising operation and personnel costs. But a lengthy bureaucratic process has kept the city’s purchase order for the new compressor from being processed until Tuesday.
“Now that we have a purchase order, that (compressor) has been ordered,” Brown said. “However, it comes from out of town so there is a delivery lag time.”
Lichtman says two and a half weeks seems like a long time to wait simply to get the fix ordered from an outside vendor.
“They have the money to do that so now they just need to put in the effort and the time now to do it as quickly as possible,” he said.
Brown said the library has a staff of four responsible for air conditioning repairs, but they determined this was beyond their capabilities. That means an outside vendor had to be selected and the city’s Budget Office, Finance Office and Purchasing Department had to process and approve the order.
Another patron, Derrick Murray, lives just a few blocks from the Nix branch and comes in several times every week to use the computers or to take advantage of the sizable collection of movies that can be borrowed for free.
The computers are unplugged now because they create too much heat and could suffer electrical problems in the high temperatures. But Murray still came in Wednesday to use the library’s wifi on his phone and to borrow the Academy Award-winning film “Get Out.”
He says he’s been coming less often than he likes because of the sweltering conditions.
“No matter how nice the staff is, the sweat start pouring you gotta do something, you know?” he said.
He tries to be diplomatic about waiting this long for the city to fix the problem, even waxing poetic about how it reminds him of the “old-time New Orleans” before central heating and air was common. But that only takes him so far.
“I’ll be patient,” he said, “but we deserve better.”