I don’t really know what Hurricane Sandy news coverage is like outside the New York/New Jersey area, but for those who live here, it’s still very much part of our daily thoughts. I still have some family members without power (so frustrating) and I’m very aware that other people have it much worse. So far I have donated supplies, food, and money to various organizations, but I feel like I should always be doing more. When I had the opportunity to volunteer at Queens Library’s Howard Beach branch, I jumped at the chance. This branch had not been open since Sandy hit NYC and I wanted to help get it up and running again.
Several libraries in NYC are still closed due to collection or building damage. I’m not overly emotional about the loss of books (even in the times of budget cuts, books are just small things that can be replaced), but damage to actual library buildings is really upsetting. When people lose their houses, electricity, cellphone and internet service, heat and other things that are necessary for their basic comfort, livelihood and communication, the library can serve as a lifeline. When that lifeline is gone, it can be hard to know where to turn.
Though Howard Beach, Queens seems to be doing better than other parts of the area (the Rockaways comes to mind), there are still many people without power, heat, phone, or internet service. We saw many downed trees, houses with structural damage, and people whose furniture was strewn all over their front lawns. However, reassuringly, other parts of the neighborhood looked completely normal. Normalcy, I think, is our greatest goal in NYC right now.
Maintenance workers had been working around the clock to get this library ready for patrons. Some books had been damaged, but not many considering the shape of other branches. The building itself was in great condition, but it had a damp, cold feeling. It smelled a bit like gas and seawater, but overall I was impressed at how QPL employees worked tirelessly to open the library.
First thing we needed to do was let people know we were open:
We also walked around the neighborhood, handing out flyers to let people know that we had coffee (lots!), electricity and power strips, computers, WiFi, FEMA disaster relief information (we also had information packets that we gave people), reference help, and of course, books. We stopped off at a local church, which was serving as warming station complete with hot meals and various supplies, and let them know that we were operational. I dropped off some donations of new children’s books, as well.
I didn’t do anything mind-shattering at the branch. Alison, Tim, and I provided fairly basic services. I had a small craft project I offered to children, answered basic reference questions, helped people on the computer, did some readers advisory, and checked out lots of books.
Patrons were grateful that we were open. Many came in with books to return. I couldn’t believe how apologetic people were that the books were overdue or damaged (books left in car trunks tended to get totally water-logged and destroyed). Despite everything they had been through, they still felt it was important to return their library books. Of course, QPL told us to waive any fines that had accrued during the hurricane.
People used the library to:
- Get hot coffee, donated by QPL
- Charge their devices
- Make phone calls and use the computers (some people stayed from opening to closing)
- Take out books (without power or Wi-Fi, books became a main source of entertainment)
- Get insurance information about their damaged cars and homes
- Pick up FEMA information packets
- Do arts and crafts (we made little sparkly bookmarks!)
- Check up on the status of their library, which many of them were concerned about
Even though the library is typically closed on Sundays and Veteran’s Day, QPL is making sure that Howard Beach library is open to the patrons that need it. I’m glad I could help in my small way.
Looking for you own way to help victims of the hurricane? Check out this post. There are still many, many people in need.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid