March 16, 2018

Texas Libraries Hit Hard by Hurricane Harvey

Texas National Guardsmen assist Houston residents affected by Hurricane Harvey onto a military vehicle.
Photo credit: Lt. Zachary West for the Army National Guard

Hurricane Harvey brought record-breaking rainfall and catastrophic flooding to southeast Texas during the last week of August. Unprecedented rainfall in the Houston-Galveston area caused what Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described as “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced.”

Tens of thousands of area residents crowded emergency shelters, hundreds of schools did not open as planned, and Houston Community College, Rice University, and Texas Southern University all announced closures.

By Tuesday, August 29 more than 3,500 Houston residents had been rescued, but with rain still falling at press time, the extent of the damage was still to be determined.

Area libraries have sustained damage from water and wind, although at press time floodwaters were still so high, and local roads so impassible, that assessment was impossible. “We don’t really know where we are in terms of damage to libraries,” Texas Library Association (TLA) director of communications Wendy Woodland told LJ. “We’re hearing anecdotally [about] different libraries that are open, different libraries that are closed, but not anything substantive and official.”


The Houston Public Library (HPL) has been unable to check on any of its 42 locations spread out over more than 600 miles. “The teams that we would have going to them can’t get to them,” explained HPL director Rhea Lawson, “because they’re either dealing with their own evacuation or flooding issues, or they’re impeded by road closures. It’s just a really treacherous situation that we’re in right now.” About 25 staff members are in shelters, and many had to leave their homes.

Two HPL branches, the McCrain-Kashmere Gardens and McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Libraries, were used during the flooding as “lily pads”—temporary shelter for displaced residents until they can be transported to a more permanent location. The fire department had to break into the buildings to give people access, Lawson reported.

Lawson hopes to begin providing services at HPL’s Central Library as soon as possible, even if only in part of the building. Houston residents will need connectivity and help with insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) services, and programming for children because area schools remain closed. She also wants to get a team out to provide children’s services in the shelters, and bring laptops to evacuees who may only have cell phones on which to fill out government forms.

Lawson has experience providing disaster relief; Hurricane Ike hit the area in 2008, three years into her role as director. “We were able to provide similar services,” she told LJ, “so we’re taking those lessons, and lessons from others”—library systems from across the country have reached out in Harvey’s wake—“to see if we can stand up those services for our neighbors who need them.”

Lawson’s team has developed a damage assessment checklist, she said, so that all will know what to look for and report on as they begin to access the branches.

Tracking the damage

TLA is working in partnership with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to track and log reports on area library conditions from local Listservs in order to put together an authoritative report. “We really don’t know what the damage is, other than—it’s going to be extensive,” said Woodland. “It’s going to be awful.”

News of the storm’s impact on local libraries is beginning to trickle in: the Rockport library, where the storm first made landfall, reportedly sustained significant damage, as did the Aransas County Public Library. Larger libraries, such as the Harris County Public Library and Fort Bend County Libraries, remain closed.

In addition to libraries located on Houston-area campuses, most of which are closed through Labor Day, the National Networks of Libraries of Medicine reported closings at the Texas Medical Center Library (Houston), MD Anderson Cancer Center Library (Houston), Houston Methodist Hospital Library, and Moody Medical Library at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Flooding was reported at the University of Houston Law Library.


Local partners were lending a hand even before the storm hit; the Brownsville Public Library hosted a volunteer sandbag-filling in its parking lot on Thursday, August 4.

Now, as damage from the storm is assessed and library staff begin returning to their buildings, TLA will be working to offer them support and resources. “We’re addressing it on two levels,” explained Woodland. “Our members who are librarians may be impacted by this personally, whether their home flooded or they have family members who were flooded, they’re dealing at that level, and also dealing with the library…. They want to be there for the community, be a resource, offer people a place to go where they can plug in their phones and get on the computer and start their FEMA applications.”

TLA has posted a page of disaster relief resources for those impacted, and wants to add to that information as more opportunities arise. “We want to put together ideas and guidance…that give [libraries] ideas of how to reach out,” said Woodland, “how to partner with different community organizations, how to make the library a community center for people looking for disaster recovery resources.”

In addition, said TSLAC director Mark Smith, “We’re going to reach out to FEMA and other types of government organizations to make sure that libraries are listed as in need of emergency services.” Working together, TLA and TSLAC are working to put together a list of resources for librarians once they are back to providing programming.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is being affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and along the Gulf Coast,” said American Library Association president Jim Neal. “The ALA has reached out to [TLA] and [TSLAC] to offer support as they work with local libraries dealing with storm-related damage.”

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Woodland, “working with [TSLAC] and starting to put together a lot of these resources that we can have available for librarians when they are coming out of the thick of it and are ready to get moving on recovery.”

The need will be there, she added. “Because everybody in the community knows where their public library is, and they know where the post office is. They may not know where the city office for disaster assistance is located. And that’s what librarians are great at—providing information.”

For libraries that have sustained damage, TLA provides a Disaster Relief Fund through which they can apply for recovery aid grants.

Organizations and individuals across the country are already reaching out, said Woodland. Publisher Simon & Schuster (S. & S.) announced on August 29 that it would offer relief assistance for public and school libraries, as well as booksellers, that were damaged in the flooding. The S. & S. Education and Library marketing department will offer any public or school library a donation of 250 “Best of” titles to help in the restoration of their collections. For retailers, the publisher will provide, free of charge, multiple copies of 20 new releases and bestsellers (S. & S. encourages booksellers in need of more immediate support to contact the Book Industry Charitable [BINC] Foundation). S.& S. also plans to work with national and local nonprofits such as First Book and the Red Cross to provide books for those displaced by the storm and in shelters.

Other major publishers have responded as well. Scholastic made a $25,000 donation to the Red Cross to help south Texas relief efforts and has promised to donate books to schools in underserved areas and to classroom libraries through its Scholastic Book Club. Hachette Book Group donated to the UJA Federation of New York, which will help provide food and shelter for displaced individuals. Macmillan will match personal employee donations to the Red Cross of up to $100. And Penguin Random House announced an unlimited matching donation program for its employees through September 15.

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) will be donating any fines and fees collected from overdue books from Monday, September 4 through Sunday, September 10, to Harvey relief via the Red Cross. “We want to help address the profound suffering of our neighbors in Texas who have experienced epic catastrophe,” said CALS executive director Nate Coulter in a statement.

To accommodate those libraries that may be in the process of applying for Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grants for Libraries or Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian programs, IMLS announced that it will extend application deadlines for institutions in the affected areas from September 1 to September 22.

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced August 30 that it would commit up to $1 million in emergency grants to preserve humanities collections and help restore operations at libraries, museums, colleges, universities, and other cultural and historical institutions in the areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Harvey.

Until the damage can be better understood, noted Woodland, the best way to help is through financial donations. Anyone wishing to help can donate to the fund directly through the Disaster Relief Fund page; the purchase of a TLA coloring book will also benefit the fund. TLA and TSLAC are also hoping to find other organizations, in Texas and nationally, to partner with for library aid.

Donations to local aid organizations and food banks are also useful, she added. “As time moves on and we start moving further into the recovery process, of course there will be opportunities to come volunteer and muck out libraries, or to donate in specific ways as more of those needs are identified.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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  1. Kathleen Carter says:

    Let us know if you need books. New ones in excellent condition

  2. Rich Gombert says:

    Let us know if you need books. We are just getting ready for our fall FOL book sale so we have plenty to choose from.

  3. Katy Radcliff says:

    I would be happy to donate books in good condition. Let me know where to send them .

  4. Thank you for this piece.

  5. I am a book consultant and would love to donate some books!!
    I need an address and info to send them.

  6. Julie todaro says:

    Not only do I want to thank Penguin Random House for their generous matching in giving…but also OCLC as well for matching their employees gifts!

  7. Christine Shanholtz says:

    I am purging a lot of childrens books .. used for one child.all in excellent.condition .. if you or a school can use them I would be thrilled
    They are picture books up thru approx 7/8 yr olds

  8. I’m an author and have books I can donate.

  9. Thank you for this article. Praying for everyone.

  10. meghan nelson says:

    Im an usborne indpendent consultant looking to have a book drive to donate childrens books to your libraries. please send me info on where to sendbthe books. Prayers!

  11. Laura Wright says:

    I also would like to know where to donate books and what kind of books would be most useful.

  12. Karen Riddle says:

    our k-6 school is moving at the end of this year and I will be purging a number of excellent quality Library books to lessen the move. I would love to send some to schools to help recover their collections. Please contact me at

  13. Victoria Lusz says:

    I have books, like new, that I would love to give to a school library or other public library. I will box them up and wait to see or hear when and where to send them.

    • Nathan Champagne says:

      From New Orleans, LA.
      Have an SUV with boxes of books, and need to find someone or organization to deliver to League City, TX school. Any assistance out there?

  14. My organization, 2400 Athletics Youth Sports & Mentoring, along with, is launching a national book Drive to refill Houston libraries. We are looking to set up collection centers around the country, as well as, a donation center in the city of Houston. We would like to know who we would contact in the Houston area to help coordinate this. Also, anyone around the country who is interested in participating in this book drive by setting up a collection center can contact us via email at for more info. Those that set up collection centers will be added to our contributors and sponsors list & the information will be announced nationally. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or visit our website for more information.

  15. We have a collection of like new books that we would like to donate to a library affected by Hurricane Harvey. We will be woulding a book drive in our McKinney, TX community as well. Please let us know when/where we can bring them down. Prayers for recovery from McKinney, TX!

  16. Bernadette Scannell says:

    I would like to donate books in excellent condition- please e-mail me the address God Bless Texas!

  17. Leeanna Walker says:

    The Friendly Bookstore in Rogers Ar stands ready to provide to replenish collections.

  18. Leeanna Walker says:

    The Friendly Bookstore in Rogers Ar stands ready to provide books to replenish collections.

  19. Beverly Trevino says:

    Please let me know where i can donate used books in good condition. I have preschool through adult

  20. Nancy Martinson says:

    Where can I find a list of counties/school districts (or specific schools) with elementary buildings with major total damage to their collections? Is there a list of those that are Title 1 schools? Where can I learn if any of those use the Alexandria Companion Corporation program for Library Management? I’m not in Texas. “My” K-5 elementary school will be closed at the end of this school year. Has anyone known of a school gifting a library’s entire collection to another school? NSM

  21. Ashanti love says:

    I have some books I would like to donate to Texas how would I get them there ?

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