The New Haven Free Public Library was not a quiet zone Tuesday night. Covered in streamers and flowers, the lobby of NHFPL played host to the library’s 15th Mardi Gras celebration.
Roughly 300 New Haven residents attended the party, which ran from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. The revelers, clad in masquerade masks and Mardi Gras beads, ate, drank and bid on more than 70 silent auction items donated by individuals and New Haven businesses. Twelve local restaurants donated food and drinks to the fundraiser while a host of other local businesses and groups offered their photography, musical and decorating skills to the event. Although exact figures are yet to be calculated, the NHFPL Foundation estimated that over $50,000 was raised to support New Haven library programs in that evening alone.
“The library is important to everyone,” Andrew Rubenoff DRA ’83 said, adding that he relied on NHFPL as a Drama School student when Yale’s libraries lacked the resources he needed. Rubenoff, who volunteers every year at the fundraiser, set up the decorations and lighting for the event and also led the charge to transform the circulation desk into a bar.
Rubenoff said people visit the library to take advantage of resources other than books. He noted that access to the internet, media resources and programming, such as job and language training, are also key functions the library provides to the New Haven area. He added that the party itself brings together many constituents and, as a result, is an important social event for businesses, volunteers and community members.
Nicole Licata-Grant, a lifelong resident of New Haven and a party attendee, agreed that the library is crucial to the community.
“[The library] was a refuge and a home away from home for me,” she said. “I think we are lucky to have a dominant institution in our town that is so loved.”
But Lisa Kaston, NHFPL Foundation development officer, noted that New Haven Free Public Library system, which includes the Ives Main Library and four neighborhood libraries, is underfunded compared to other libraries across the state.
Kaston explained that the library — funded primarily by the city — is not permitted to raise money on its own. The NHFPL Foundation, which directs donations to the library, receives the $75 per person ticket revenue from Tuesday’s event.
She said the money raised at the party will go to library programs including NHFPL’s online resources, children’s programs and its bookmobile — a travelling book distributor.
Among the guests was Mayor Toni Harp, who wished attendees a happy Mardi Gras and thanked them for supporting the library.
The library celebration also included a parade where local performers danced and marched through the library lobby as band members played, “When The Saints Come Marching In.”
Marshall Demorest, a volunteer busboy who was working the event for the second year in a row, credits the library with giving New Haven residents a safe and productive place to go — keeping people off the streets and out of trouble. He smiled as he relayed his own plan to start a Yu-Gi-Oh! club at the library based on the Japanese manga game.
Mardi Gras marks the last day before the start of Lent.
Correction, Feb. 10: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the New Haven Free Public Library is funded by the state. In fact, the NHFPL is supported by municipal funds. A previous version also stated that the NHFPL Foundation’s development officer was named Lisa Katson. Her name is in fact Lisa Kaston. Additionally, a previous version stated that “both” of New Haven’s library branches are underfunded, in fact there are five New Haven Free Public Library locations.