A Little Storm-Shelter Library

On Monday, Oct. 29, Sandy headed for the East Coast, looking to make landfall in my home state of New Jersey. Days before, my local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) group staffed a Red Cross shelter at Chairville Elementary School in suburban Medford, NJ. Having volunteered to staff a shelter there last year during Hurricane Irene, I knew there would be residents with worried minds and lots of time on their hands, in need of distractions.

Preparing for what could be days at the storm shelter, I grabbed a box of books already set aside for donation; evacuees needed them more than the next book sale would. The stash included everything from science textbooks to romances and poetry. I threw in some recent magazines, a few children's books, and a stack of holiday catalogs that had come in the mail. On the morning we opened, I set up the box with some colorful, cheerful fabric and a sign that assured guests that they were welcome to keep whatever they liked—otherwise, people might have ignored the longer books for fear they wouldn't finish them before they went home.

When the storm came in, the 20-plus shelter residents spent lots of time eating, talking, reading, and playing games. The little library saw plenty of use, and received many positive comments from volunteers.

The next morning, when most residents were able to leave and we started closing up, I overheard a newspaper reporter interviewing residents at the next table. Asked to name something specific that made the shelter stay fun, one young man said "books and magazines"—along with all the food and coffee. I was thrilled!

While this little makeshift library was not an official part of the operation, and my volunteer CERT work was not the most vital role, the reading material helped displaced, worried residents pass the time: libraries FTW, again!

— By Kathy Dempsey, Libraries Are Essential