February 16, 2018

Libraries Respond in Katrina’s Wake

By LJ Staff

As the flood waters rose in the coastal sections of storm-tossed Louisiana, librarians across the state also rose to meet the needs of their own patrons and refugees. Though the outlook was grim following the destructive wrath of Hurricane Katrina, and the fate of thousands is unknown, Louisiana State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton told LJ that library staffers had mobilized quickly to keep services running. ‘People in Louisiana are unusually generous and libraries are staying open over the Labor Day weekend, staff are driving vans back and forth to shelters, and they’re issuing temporary library cards so refugees can borrow books and use computers to contact relatives via email.’

As expected, very little information presently is available on the devastated areas along the cost. ‘We still have six or seven parishes, like Orleans Parish [the city of New Orleans], Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and Plaquemines Parish, that we just don’t know about,’ Hamilton said. Some libraries in the affected area, especially Terrebonne and Pointe Coupee, have been inundated with evacuees. ‘The public libraries in Louisiana have done everything they know how to do to accommodate people coming in,’ Hamilton said. LJ‘s attempts to contact these facilities were futile at press times, as many remain without electricity and phone service.

The state library is mounting information on its web site for all those without phone service and has established a relief fund for donations to help libraries that will need to be rebuilt or restocked. Send checks made out to the Louisiana Library Foundation to P.O. Box 2583, Baton Rouge, LA, 70821. If donors want their money slotted for a specific parish, put a note on the check or attach a letter with the donation.

Elsewhere around the state, Shreve Memorial Library, Shreveport reports that thousands of hurricane evacuees have relocated to that northern city and are scattered across eight refugee sites. Hundreds of people have been coming into the library, where they’ve been offered temporary cards and access to free printing. The library is also accepting monetary donations plus needed items such as school supplies. Already, some 600 relocated children have registered to begin the school year in Caddo Parrish. At the evacuee sites, library staffers are offering books to read and pass along and holding story time programs. The library has several vacancies, at all levels, and has been recruiting from among the evacuees.

Other states share Louisiana’s woes: In Mobile, AL, little is known of the fates of library staffers; the library’s main branch lost its roof. Fortunately, most of the collection was previously moved to another location, as the building was undergoing renovation. Alabama State Library Service director Rebecca Mitchell reports that some branches in Mobile may be worse off. The Bayou La Batre Library, a 1933 log cabin, is intact, but the contents have been lost. Some libraries have brought PCs to locations housing evacuees and one library even hosted a luncheon. Mitchell anticipates that with displaced children about to enroll in new schools, the state’s new homework help tutorial service, available at libraries, will become quite useful. The Mississippi State Library Commission, Jackson, has no power and is closed until September 6.

In Texas, Harris County Public Library (HCPL) and Houston Public Library are just beginning to coordinate services for the 12,000 people relocated to the Astrodome. ‘They’re still in survival mode,’ said HCPL spokesperson Rhoda Goldberg. For now, HCPL branches are offering 1100 public access computers and handing out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications. Memphis PL Public Relations officer Lillian Johnson told LJ that a task force has been established to help evacuees who are receiving visitors’ cards for library service and PCs have been set aside solely for filling out applications for FEMA aid.

Amid their sympathetic thoughts, some librarians naturally began wondering whether the next annual American Library Association (ALA) conference, scheduled for June 22-28, 2006 in New Orleans, may have to be moved. ALA president Michael Gorman released a statement acknowledging that ‘work on mitigating and monitoring the terrible human tragedy must and should take precedence,’ and adding that it was still too early to predict whether the city of New Orleans would recover enough to host the conference. ‘ALA is monitoring the situation in New Orleans as it relates to planning for the ALA Annual Conference," Gorman noted. "We will provide updates on affected libraries, library reconstruction efforts, and the 2006 ALA Conference on the ALA home page as we receive information in the coming weeks."