Library in a Disaster Zone

Hurricane Sandy devastated some sections of New York City and did massive damage to numerous libraries in Queens. Undaunted, the amazing Queens Library sent a mobile book bus with a rapid response team of librarians, led by Matthew Allison, into the area as soon as roads were opened again.

Maybe it's hard to imagine what a librarian can do when people have no power, no heat, and no food. People in the Rockaways, in Queens, live in crowded conditions, crashing with friends and families, seeing homes where everything was destroyed by flooding. What can a library do when people are cold, tired, hungry, and scared?

The library brings them all the things it always does. It provides information, such as FEMA applications, where aid centers are set up, locations for Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. It provides comfort: charge your cell phone, send an email, or just get out of the cold for a few minutes. It provides entertainment: books were lent whether people had a library card or not.

These are all the direct benefits, but there are many intangibles as well. Everyone knew that, even at their lowest point, the library was still there for them. Some volunteer librarians from Queens were able to do a storytime at a relief distribution point. It's strange to tell stories in the open air, with children sitting on matteresses in the dirt, while their parents scramble for food and blankets around you—and incredibly inspiring. It was a moment of normalcy, of comfort, of safety.

Libraries are not just a part of our communities. They are essential to them. Our patrons knew that they were not forgotten, and we were ready to serve.

To support our efforts, visit the Queen Library Foundation or email, and Urban Librarians Unite.

Christian Zabriskie, Urban Librarians Unite