New Orleans

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Slowly but Surely

Libraries in New Orleans and Gulf region continue their struggle to rebuild.

It's been 22 months since Hurricane Katrina, followed by Hurricane Rita two months later, devastated the Gulf Region. After the storms, libraries that were able to reopen did so as quickly as they could. Even with a staff of 19 (compared to the usual 216), the New Orleans Public Library was up and running as best it could right after the floodwaters receded.

And libraries across the country were first responders to the initial crisis, providing essential services to displaced Gulf residents, providing books and storytimes at shelters and extending hours to help locate loved ones through the Internet and finding resources for assistance and support.

So how are libraries in the region doing almost two years since hundreds of them across the region were destroyed or damaged? The Pascagoula Public Library in Mississippi officially reopened on April 16 with the theme "No Place Like Home", but most other libraries are still just beginning to rebuild.

Then - Eight of the 13 libraries of New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) were flooded.

Now - Five branch libraries are still closed and gutted awaiting funds to rebuild. 

Then - 137 school libraries in Mississippi either suffered severe damage or were counted as a total loss.

Now - Rebuilding of the school libraries has just begun, with only a few projects underway. The estimated cost is more than $38 million.

Then - Southern University of New Orleans lost its entire collection of 100,000 books

Now - Operating as a virtual library in a doublewide trailer.

Libraries: An Essential Service

Libraries are an ‘essential’ community service, but according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) they are not, so even though FEMA has been slowly providing reimbursements to many libraries, major assistance efforts have come from nongovernmental efforts to provide funds, temporary libraries and resources.

Led by the American Library Association (ALA), and its state and regional chapters, the library community quickly began raising funds to help their sister locations in the Gulf. Library staff and library users who love libraries have generously contributed more than $500,000 to fundraising efforts so far. In addition, more than 300 libraries have adopted sister libraries in the Gulf.

In addition to financial support, 1,000 conference goers at the ALA Conference in New Orleans in June 2006 volunteered- helping to clean and refurbish libraries, houses, and assist with other community building projects.

A number of organizations and foundations have provided temporary libraries for public libraries in the region.  Thanks to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) are now setting up temporary libraries in 17 communities such as Waveland and Biloxi Mississippi, and in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans in Louisiana.  All these libraries should be up and running by July 31.

The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries has focused on helping school libraries and so far has distributed over $2.5 million to 54 school libraries in the region.

Much more help, however, is still needed over the upcoming years as the Gulf communities rebuild their libraries.