When I was first a professor I was in a cubicle in the basement of a 200-year-old building of an even older university. Charming, right? In my second year, the university began to build a new library next door. For weeks there were pulses of concentric waves in my water glass, caused by the pounding of huge steel pylons into the ground. These were more numerous and sturdier than those for any other new building because of the weight of the books that would be housed in and circulated from what became the main library.
As I hope you know, books can be heavy objects. Their hundreds of feathery wood-based pages often add up to substantial weight in each volume. Water is also heavy, weighing over eight pounds per gallon. A water logged book thus becomes a substantially hefty object. Now, imagine an entire library slowly emerging from flood water as it recedes. Yikes!
That brings us to the recent spate of hurricanes that spawned this blog entry. Consider the hundreds of public libraries that were inundated with water in the last few weeks. Then consider that children’s libraries are commonly found on the lowest level of public libraries.
If you’ve ever moved volumes of books—dry, heavy books—you know it is an arduous task. However, it’s not nearly as monumental, nor as heart-breaking, as having to move wet children’s books to a dumpster.
Compounding the devastation from hurricanes Harvey and Irma was that the hardest hit populations were families already living in poverty…the very families that would most need to use a public library. A library provides an enduring free resource for people to learn and grow beyond formal education. Further offering families a nearly inexhaustible supply of picture books, stories and information, a public library allows families with few means a way to better position their children for success in school.
Speaking of schools, how many school libraries are located on lower floors? It’s quite possible that schools serving families with a low income might have lost their libraries, as well.
In short, while the economic and life disruption from recent, extreme weather events has been colossal, the devastation will extend into the future as a significant interruption in the basic and continuing education of millions…UNLESS of course, we, the community, quickly step up to offer substantial support to affected library systems and schools.
While the Red Cross and other organizations dedicated to disaster relief are natural choices to receive our donations, the American Library Association (ALA) and its state and local affiliates are additional places to which to turn for guidance on helping damaged libraries as they struggle back to something near prominence in the role they play in people’s lives.
I implore you to seek out ways to support the libraries in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and all of our Caribbean neighbors to re-establish public and school libraries as THE place to go for anchoring our efforts to move toward some version of normalcy after these very difficult times.