Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Katrina Project

Powell's bookstore (Portland, OR's amazing bookstore) and some enterprising students at Princeton University are working together to help rebuild the New Orleans Public Library.

This was brought to my attention by Leslie Burger, director of the Princeton Public Library (where I interned before receiving my MLIS) and president-elect of the ALA. Leslie has a definite passion for libraries and their future. She wouldn't have worked so hard to become the president of the ALA if she didn't. You only have to read her tips for transforming libraries to see the passion and committment she has for the field.

A few days ago, Leslie posted about the Katrina Project. She explains in her post:
The Katrina Project www.katrina-project.org is building a Levee made out of books in front of Firestone Library on the University Campus. If you are interested in donating to the Katrina Project New Orleans Public Library system rebuilding project you can purchase "book bricks" for $8.95 each at www.powells.com/katrina.
You can suggest a book for the collection at check-out time (home improvement books are very popular among patrons right now), or you can let the organization chose one on their own.

I think it's important for people to see what they're supporting in order to gain their support. Here are some images from the Katrina Project website:

Before Hurricane Katrina

Before Hurricane Katrina

After Hurricane Katrina

Before Hurricane Katrina

It's pretty stunning to see the dire shape the library was in after the hurricane. It's been cleaned up, but many of the books in the collection were lost. Many of the branch libraries are not open yet, and those that are open are not operating at their previous capacity.

Also from the Katrina Project site, some information on what exactly happened to the libraries after the hurricane hit:
  • 80% of New Orleans was inundated—an area equal to 7 Manhattan Islands.

  • 8 of 12 library branches are ruined—water and carpets of mold have damaged collections, furniture, and computers beyond repair.

  • Loss of tax revenues forced initial layoff of 90% of library staff.

  • Total damage is estimated at $26 million - $30 million.
These are some pretty staggering numbers to consider, so I think it helps to break it down a little. I know many of you already gave money for Katrina victims. But I think $8.95 is a small price to pay to help provide the people of New Orleans with materials for their public libraries.

In my experience, people with lower incomes or people who are new to an area (either as immigrants to a country or just people who have moved from somewhere else in the country) use/need the library as their main source of information. For many people, the library is the only place where they can use a computer (and I can't tell you how many businesses have taken the: 'all our information is online' approach, effectively cutting out a lot of their customers). It's where they can take their kids and know they're safe.

I don't want to make assumptions about the patrons of New Orleans and call them low income, but I do know that many of them have no home (or a destroyed home) and/or no job. Depending on where they live in New Orleans, there are a lot of people (particularly in the 9th Ward) how are low income. Getting to a library with a good collection can help them look up information on finding a new home/apartment or finding a job; allow them to take practice tests for jobs; find books on how to repair things in their home; give them access to the Internet.

These people still need help getting on their feet, and by assisting in the rebuilding of their library, you will help them.

I am a librarian, so of course I think this is a good cause. It's not something I can divorce myself from and look at objectively. I have a vested interest in it, I have a prejudice towards making libraries better.

But I also know the good that libraries do for their communities. I know how people look to the library to give them answers to questions. The library needs materials to perform its services. Go here to help.

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