Calm After the Storm
Princeton Public Library, NJ
BA, Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), 1981
President, Princeton Public School Board, and fundraiser for a nonprofit serving runaway, abused, and homeless children
Photo by © Michael Mancuso
After providing residents with a place to recover, recharge, and find relief from the damage of two hurricanes, Princeton Public Library (PPL) is firmly fixed in the mind of its community as a critical first responder, largely thanks to the efforts of Timothy K. Quinn.
After Hurricane Irene barreled into New Jersey in 2011, the library offered a haven to people without power, serving 4,500 people that first day, almost double the normal daily average of 2,500. Quinn, the library’s communications director, posted the opening on social media and on fliers. When patrons arrived, he videotaped and photographed their testimonials, says library executive director Leslie Burger. “He immediately understood that the library’s response post-storm was critical to establishing how essential it is to the community,” says Burger, a former American Library Association president.
Quinn and a team of library staffers were ready in 2012 the morning after Superstorm Sandy struck the Garden State. They checked the building for outages and damage, then called in other library employees who rearranged furniture and added extension cords, power strips, and Ethernet cables. For two days, the library was the only open public facility in the city, says Burger.
Over the next three days, almost 20,000 people came to the library seeking information or a place to warm up, power up, work, contact loved ones, and find some respite. “People were so grateful for us,” Quinn says. “They kept stopping us and saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ ”
Quinn started at the library as a part-time press release writer. Now he is responsible for the library’s marketing and brand identity, and his duties include everything from putting out newsletters and devising fundraising strategies to planning the library’s festivals that celebrate children’s books and environmental films.
Burger credits Quinn’s work with helping to raise $22 million in donations. Of that total, $12 million went toward the $18 million, three-story library building that opened in 2004 and $10 million to the library endowment to assist the library in adapting to the changing environment.
But it was after Irene and Sandy that Quinn realized the role of the library during community emergencies. He says he tells staff and community members that the library is a first responder of a different sort. “I saw the storms as an opportunity to serve and that libraries are indispensable to lives in our community—and to lives in any community,” Quinn says.