L is for Library: From Reading Room to Moss Memorial and Beyond

by: Andrew Lopez
and Bob Monie
For most of its early history as a trades school, Delgado did not have a separate library building.  It had, in Building 1 on City Park Ave., a reading room stocked with books, technical journals, and popular trade magazines purchased on the recommendation of the director, H. Giles Martin; the assistant director, O. J. Davieson; and the teaching staff of seasoned practitioners in the trades and industrial arts. Exposure to the contents of the technical reading room, including such publications as Industrial Arts Magazine, Printers Magazine, and American Printer and Lithographer, was not left to chance; students were required to take a course in Trades' English or English for the Tradesman, and demonstrate to their instructor, Mrs. Joseph Font (formerly Miss R. Leydecker), that they were proficient in “the use of trades journals.”  In the spring 1924 Tool Kit, she explained that “in the largest trades school of the South, the trades journals and magazines have become the 'text-books.'” In a 1926 edition of Tool Kit, she enumerated the requirements: “The boys must learn to spell trade terms, to write out an intelligent report, and to make out shop orders and records.  They must cultivate an acquaintance with their trades periodicals and learn to use them with full intelligence.”

Delgado's reading room circa 1940s, photo lost after Hurricane Katrina, copied from Between the Shelves (Fall 1995)
Mrs. Joseph Font, the first librarian at Delgado, 1926
Mrs. Font, as trades English instructor and librarian, also stocked motion pictures and magic lantern (early slide projector) slides “on industrial work procedures.”  She enlisted the aid of Delgado instructors, such as sheet metal expert Albert Max, mechanical draftsman Robert Brydon Jr., Chef John Henry Breland, and architectural drafters Charles Culbertson and William Schultz, to search the published literature in books and journals in their fields and set out the best of it in the reading room.  Or often, if they were dissatisfied with what the book market offered, they wrote their own material for students and sometimes for commercial use.  Chef Breland, for example, circulated his recipes for years to Delgado students, and eventually submitted them to the public through commercial publishers. In 1948, Delgado students in the reading room could open the pages of the New York Times Book Review and follow the reviewer's judgment that in Breland's Chef's Guide to Quantity Cooking “the small-restaurant owner will find all the recipes needed for good menu-planning....the material is well-planned and directions are given clearly.”  After the record setting work of Bryon Armstrong and his Delgado aviation students in designing and building wood-frame single-propeller racing aircraft on campus in the 1930s, Robert Brydon Jr., unable to find a textbook that covered techniques of drafting both wood-frame and aluminum planes, wrote his own; the Delgado printing department published copies of his Fundamentals of Aircraft Drafting for the reading room and students, and the following year, a commercial edition was available.
Breland's cookbook praised in the New York Times Book Review

Robert Brydon Jr.'s book on aircraft drafting
Robert Brydon Jr., 1924
This pattern of maintaining a technical reading room that could draw on the services of the in-house printing press, the expertise of trades instructors, and a Trades English program continued though the 1950s.  In1957, however, Delgado president Marvin E. Thames contracted the Tulane University School of Urban Studies to make recommendations for Delgado's future, which was gradually bound to break from its four-decade role as a trades institute and set out to become Louisiana's first community college. How the Delgado technical reading room could evolve to meet the more general needs of a full-service community college library was uncertain until a bequest suddenly appeared. Elleonora Erwin Moss, a longtime benefactor of the school, died at the age of 99, just three months before she would have reached her 100th birthday, and bequeathed $150,000 of her estate to Delgado specifically for the construction of a library.

Miss Moss, as she preferred to be called, the daughter of Dr. Benjamin Moss, a physician and  avid book collector, had been a friend of Isaac Delgado's aunt, Virginia, for many years.  She, like the Delgados, lived in an Italianate mansion in the Garden District and is buried in Metairie Cemetery, a short distance from the Delgado family tomb. Though long acquainted with Mr. Isaac Delgado, Miss Moss did not become close friends with him until Virginia, on her death bed, asked her to be his companion and read to him because he was losing his sight and his overall health was deteriorating from diabetes and kidney disease.  (Recounted from Stephen Patureau's 1939 interview with Miss Moss in Patureau “A History of the Isaac Delgado Central Trades School,” unpublished M.A. Thesis, Tulane University, 1939: 26-27).
The Garden District Home where Ellenora Moss lived
The grave of Elleonora Moss in Metairie Cemetery

Ms. Moss in the middle
Le Petit Salon; A History of Its Fifty Years, 1924-1974

Standing next to Isaac Delgado at the Cornerstone Ceremony for the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art
Photo by Louis Fritch

Benjamin Moss, M.D.
Elleonora Moss became Isaac Delgado's confidante and benignly influenced the direction of his largess during the last five years of his life. When he was visiting Atlantic City, she sent him a news clipping from the Picayune on the benefits of trades education for boys.  Upon his return to New Orleans, she pursued the topic, eliciting from Mr. Delgado his famous response, “Yes, I would love to give a boy a trade.”   Stephen Patureau stated flatly in his 1939 master’s thesis on the history of Delgado that “the thought of leaving the greater part of his fortune for the establishment of a trades school for boys did not originate with Mr. Delgado but was the thought of Miss Moss who read the article in the newspaper and informed Mr. Delgado of the need for training in mechanics [a general term then for all the skilled trades].”  Certainly the thought of having a separate building for library services belonged to Miss Moss, when she generously left $150,000 to the school in 1960 expressly for that purpose.

On May 5, 1961, the city council adopted “a motion accepting a legacy of $150,000 bequeathed in the will of Mrs. Elleonore [sic] E. Moss for a memorial library.” On Aug. 2, this information was printed again, for a second time, in the Times-Picayune newspaper:
$150,000 bequeathed to Delgado by Miss Elleonora Moss for a library, Times-Picayune Aug. 2, 1961
 On Oct. 12, it became public that the $150,000 legacy from the “estate of the late Elleonora E. Moss was released [...] to Delgado Trades and Technical Institute for the establishment of an industrial library in memory of Miss Moss.” The newspaper said a check was presented by Miss Sue Price, the executrix, and attorney Harry Kelleher to Dr. David Heiman, the Delgado board chairman, and Marvin E. Thames, the Delgado president. At the time of this announcement of funds from Miss Moss, the Delgado board of managers sought to have the funds matched by an alternate source, the article said, to make possible the construction of a $300,000 Moss Memorial Library building.
Delgado receives library fund, court document verifies transfer of funds to President and Board Chairman, Oct 1961
The architectural firm of Nolan, Norman and Nolan had been selected to develop and release library plans within 90 days. Delgado President Marvin Thames is quoted as saying, “We are deeply grateful to Miss Moss, who was a close associate of the late Isaac Delgado, for it was she who originally suggested to him the idea of a trades school.” Thames added that the funds had been received at an opportune time, because Delgado had just begun granting “associate of science degrees through its new technical division.” Dr. Heiman added that “adequate library facilities” would help meet the needs of “an increasing student body which will now be doubled in the next few years.”

Two years later, on Aug. 15, 1963, ceremonies were held in the rear of Delgado to mark the beginning of the $300,000 Moss Memorial Library. The newspaper reported that then acting Mayor Joseph V. Di Rosa would be present, and that construction of the library building was made possible by a $150,000 endowment from Miss Moss and an additional $150,000 provided by the Delgado Albania Fund. The next day this picture was published, featuring acting Mayor Di Rosa, Delgado President Marvin Thames, and a librarian, Mrs. Cynthia McGoey, breaking ground for the new building:

Construction of the library begins, Times Picayune Aug 16, 1963
A year and a half after construction began in the fall of 1963, the library was finished and ready for a dedication ceremony on the morning of Monday, March 8, 1965. “Moss Library Dedication Set,” ran the headline in the newspaper, which featured a picture of the completed building and details about the ceremony, as well as a few items on its cost. The March 6, 1965 story says the library was built at a cost of $449,180. In addition to the $150,000 startup money that we know came from Miss Moss, the newspaper reported that $173,000 came from the Delgado-Albania Plantation Commission, $9,775 came from the Delgado Memorial Fund, $4,185 came from the United States Department of Health, and $65,000 more came from the State Bond and Building Commission. A similar mention of the new building was reported in the City of New Orleans Annual Report, 1963-1964.
Delgado's new library, March 1965
The library's statement of purpose in the College Catalog, 1965-1966
The library handbook from 1965, designed and printed at Delgado and the library building in 1960s
In March 1970, dedication ceremonies for two new additions to the library were scheduled for April 20. The new structures, then nearing completion, were reported to have cost $2.5 million. Louisiana governor John J. McKiethen and other political representatives were invited to the ceremonies, the Times-Picayune reported on March 29, 1970. Half of the cost for the new additions was borne by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare grants, while the other half was gathered from loans, endowments, and proceeds from the state corporation franchise tax. Although these large new additions would add “80,000 square feet of floor space at the City Park facility,” Delgado President Marvin Thames was quoted as saying that someone on the College’s board of managers argued that more funds would be needed from the state and federal governments “if the College is going to continue its growth.” William R. Schultz, dean of the Library and Media Center, said the expanded Moss Memorial Library had increased the library’s size from its 900 square feet in the original trade school building to 110,000 square feet in March 1970.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s there were public and College events of all sorts held at the Moss Memorial Library. The library must have seemed not just like the center of campus to folks at Delgado, but also a site of significance to the entire city of New Orleans and beyond. Indeed, it hosted film screenings, artistic, cultural, and historical exhibits of all sorts.

Additions to library

Events and life at the library in the 1970s
Heading into the 1980s there was continued growth for the library and the College. In the late 1970s the library hired a library cataloger, in accordance with American Library Association guidelines. A new library location was opened on the West Bank Campus by 1980. In 1981 the Cataloging Department’s duties increased to encompass the new location. At the time, cataloging staff used a typewriter to copy Library of Congress information from the National Union Catalog onto multiple cards for each title acquired, according to an historical overview of cataloging practices published by Denise Repman in the library’s newsletter from the mid-1990s, Between the Shelves. Now Library Dean, Mrs. Repman recalls that the library joined SOLINET (Southeastern Online Library Information Network) in 1984 and began sharing records with OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) to expedite and further standardize the cataloging process. It was a step toward computerization that Repman remembers generated a good deal of excitement and interest around the College.

By the 1990s, cataloging duties in the library at City Park had been expanded again to include materials for the Slidell location. It was in the 1990s that the library began to provide computer access. There was also an official relationship with the New Orleans Public Library at the time, as the Times-Picayune reported on March 1, 1990. The short blurb encouraged readers to “check out the new ‘browsing collection’ mini-branch [...] on the first floor of Delgado Community College’s Moss Memorial Library.” Four years later, Leonora Lockett, the library director at the time, reported in the library newsletter on the maintenance of Moss Memorial Library’s “status as a mini-branch of New Orleans Public Library” (Fall 1994). It was also in 1994 that the Times-Picayune announced a “ribbon-cutting celebration for ISAAC (Information Service Automated Access Catalog),” the online debut of the library catalog, which got its name from Delgado student Anita Chee’s winning entry in a contest to name the new catalog (Between the Shelves, Fall 1994).

The first decade of the new millennium has been all but eclipsed by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Like many institutions in the area, the full scope of what exactly was lost is not yet well understood, though it is clear that much is gone forever. Mid-decade, the library was operating out of four different Delgado locations: City Park, West Bank, Slidell, and Charity School of Nursing. “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Library Dean Denise Repman wrote in the Louisiana Libraries journal, “there were no print books or periodicals, no access to online resources or e-books, or for that matter, no Delgado Community College City Park Library” (Spring 2008). The Moss Memorial Library building was so badly damaged it had to be demolished.
Marietta College students helped to remove moldy books after Katrina
When it became clear that the College was going to recover, Repman reported, “organization efforts were begun in order to provide not only electronic resources, but also electronic services.” A library presence was established online in Blackboard with the assistance of the Blackboard Administrator, Ed McGee. Further collaboration with the Office of Distance Learning and Instructional Technology (DLIT) and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) was advantageous to the library’s reestablishing itself in an online environment after the storm. Additional support in the provision of electronic resources and services came from the library’s membership in the LOUIS consortium.

Beginning in May 2007, the City Park Campus library has been temporarily housed in Building 10, Room 116, where about 22,000 print volumes and other materials can be stored. Unfortunately, the majority of Moss Memorial Library’s outstanding collection of some 150,000 print book volumes — which circulate regularly through institutions across New Orleans via inter-library lending — are currently housed in closed stacks trailers on the opposite side of the campus. There are 200+ current print periodical subscriptions for the educational and research needs of students, faculty, and staff working in all areas of study and training at Delgado. Within the library there is a computer lab with 18 computers, a print station, microfilm readers, and a very busy photocopier. There are about 85,000 e-books; 95,000 electronic journals; and 122 databases available online exclusively from the library’s website or Blackboard.
Temporary housing for the library in Building 10 since 2007, most materials stored in trailers, pictures taken 2012
Due to spatial constraints, the Reference Room is located down the hall, along with two quiet study rooms available for reserve, each with TV and DVD capabilities. The Reference Room contains approximately 5,000 print volumes, 20 study carrels, and two online public access catalog stations. Next door is the library classroom with 30 computers, a smart podium, and good projection. An interlibrary loan service (ILLIAD) is available for materials not owned or accessible at Delgado. With a LALINC card, Delgado affiliates have additional access in-person to the collections of other participating academic libraries in the greater New Orleans area and throughout Louisiana via the library’s membership in the Louisiana Academic Library Information Network Consortium (LALINC). Today, the library serves seven different Delgado campuses and sites, including Covington, West Jefferson, and Jefferson, while the City Park Campus alone served a whopping 10,000 visitors in March 2012 and gave 24 information literacy classes to 263 students.

Plans for the future include construction of a new state-of-the-art Library Learning Commons on the site of the former library building, scheduled for sometime in 2014. While the name Moss Memorial Library will not be carried over to the new building, which is supposed to be named after former Delgado President Marvin Thames, according to Library Dean Denise Repman, there is interest in retaining the legacy of Miss Moss by naming a room in the new building after her. True to the Learning Commons concept, the new building is supposed to be shared with Distance Learning and Instructional Technology (DLIT), a media center, and some tutoring labs, including reading, writing, and ESL. In the interest of meeting the growing demand for courses and record-high levels of enrollment at Delgado, now the biggest institution of higher education in the New Orleans area, the new library building is eagerly anticipated, just as it was 50 years ago.

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