When disaster strikes…

When a disaster happens…

Natural disasters (and even those that are man-made) happen all the time. Sure, many of us may prepare for the worst with extra batteries, bottled water, and insurance policies. But what about those events that have lasting impact and take longer than a couple of days to bounce back?

The news gravitates to stories of homes lost and pets rescued, but when schools and other municipal buildings are damaged so is the infrastructure of the community. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to put the pieces back together. In the very worst cases, communities may have to start from scratch.

“But what about school libraries?”

Dozens of school libraries affected:

In August, central Louisiana experienced unprecedented rainfall amounts that led to a myriad of waterways swelling and saturating neighborhoods in 20 parishes, some staying under water for more than a week. Tens of thousands of homes along with numerous businesses and municipal buildings were submerged in areas that had never before flooded. Of those 20 parishes, East Baton Rouge was believed to have suffered the worst. In this one parish alone, 11 school libraries were reported to have suffered moderate to catastrophic damage.

In October, Hurricane Matthew grazed the coast of North Carolina dumping inches of rain along its eastern-most counties. Even after the skies cleared, rivers continued to rise for days and swollen rivers overflowed their banks. A levee breach in Lumberton washed out roads and bridges and many families sought refuge on rooftops or in local shelters. Across eastern North Carolina, 10 school libraries were reported to have suffered damage due to the flooding – three of them a total loss: Princeville Elementary, West Lumberton Elementary, and Dillard Academy Charter School.

Advocating for libraries

School librarians have to constantly advocate for their programs and funding in the best of times. But what about the worst of times? In extreme situations, everyone will be clamoring for resources. Recovering from a catastrophic event can be overwhelming, but know that there are ways to reach out for help.

In response to damage due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Louisiana Library Association established a Disaster Relief Fund to help make funds available to those libraries affected by recent disasters. Anyone can donate at any time and Louisiana libraries of any type affected by a disaster can apply for relief funds.

In October, the North Carolina School Library Media Association donated 100% of the sales from their conference store to a newly founded “disaster relief” account to help school libraries affected in the recent flooding.

Other sources:

Beyond Words – Dollar General, in collaboration with ALA, AASL, and the NEA, have collaborated to provide funding for public school libraries affected by disasters. Applicants must meet a list of criteria, but individual awards run between $10,000 and $50,000. The Beyond Words website also offers a disaster recovery toolkit, tips for disaster preparedness, and guidelines and possible funding sources for recovery efforts.

Donors Choose – Donors Choose is a 100% tax-deductible website that helps individual teachers raise money to fund smaller projects through crowd-funding. The recent Hurricane Matthew Relief campaign raised almost $50,000 in just a few days to fund 53 classroom projects by purchasing books, furniture, classroom supplies, and technology for those schools affected by catastrophic flooding.

Titlewish – Follett School Solutions gives schools an easy solution to raising funds. Schools set a goal, Follett creates a link through Titlewish, and the campaign is shared through websites and social media. Those wanting to donate can do so in any amount, and the credit goes into an account for the affected school to purchase new materials. Princeville Elementary was one school in eastern North Carolina that was a total loss. They are trying to raise $10,000 to purchase books through Titlewish.

Funds4Books Mackin is also currently running a campaign where you can donate to school libraries affected by the August floods in Louisiana.

Book drives – Yes or No?:  

Collection development, as we all know, is strategic and complicated. Although it may seem logical that a book drive would be an effective way to help libraries in need, what is best is to reach out to the librarian to find out exactly how you can help. While it’s true that libraries affected by disaster may need to replace books and materials, we can be more helpful by meeting expressed needs than to randomly collect used materials that may be worn, outdated, and in disrepair. A small cash donation is likely to be more helpful to a librarian in need than boxes of yard sale books.

How can you help?

  • Consider donating to one of the campaigns listed above.
  • Share links for fundraising campaigns on social media.
  • Reach out to professional organizations or district leaders of affected libraries to see if there is a plan in place that you can support.
  • If your state organization doesn’t yet have a disaster relief plan, consider proposing one.

This article is by no means is an exhaustive list of schools affected by disaster or resources available. If you have other ideas or resources to assist school libraries affected by disaster, please continue the conversation in the comments below.


Author: Sedley Abercrombie

Sedley Abercrombie is the district digital learning and library media programs specialist for Davidson County Schools in North Carolina, an NCSLMA executive board member, and an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

1 reply

  1. Hello, A reminder of the fully resourced title for all types of disaster preparedness and relief, Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery in School Libraries: Creating a Safe Haven,

    Most of the links for the ALA/AASL site are no longer working.

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