Disasterous Loss: Are You Prepared?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011
As writers, we understand loss. We fill jump drives or external hard drives with precious data or we backup our files on the cloud in case we need access from anywhere.

But are we prepared for a true disaster? Are we ready if a fire strikes our office (or wherever we write), if a tornado demolishes our home, or if a hurricane forces flood waters into our lives?

As Hurricane Irene raced up the eastern seaboard, the library in Upper Jay, New York braced itself. But the community, situated along the AuSable River in the Adirondacks could not have imagined the devastation to the community's library.

The basement of the Wells Memorial Library filled with water. On the main floor, about two feet of mucky water wiped out the entire children's collection. Those books were on the lower shelves, where small hands could easily reach and select a picture book for reading pleasure.

In an interview yesterday, Library Board of Trustees President Marie-Ann Azar Ward said nothing was on the floor of the library's basement because it has had water in it previously.

"But the main building has never experienced flooding in 105 years and this is a flood-prone river valley."

The children's collection wasn't the only genre of books that were damaged. The Adirondack collection and archives were "severely curtailed," and the lower two shelves, filled with fiction, biographies, reference books, DVDs and large print were ruined.

Ward estimates that 50 percent, approximately 5000 items, have been removed from the library.

Since the flood, over 20 people, from age 4 to 80, have spent dayss salvaging undamaged items and discarding mud-caked and water-logged books, furniture and supplies.

New York Governor Cuomo tagged the library a Labor for Your Neighbor site. On September 3, fifteen volunteers from other New York communities worked to clear heating ducts and dry wall from the building's basement and fix the handicap ramp.

Ward said the library serves a population of about 2000 across four villages. The library operates on a yearly budget of $30,000. She said the library raises 70 percent of the funds during a yearly book sale.

Unfortunately, those items were in the basement.

Since word of the devastation leaked into social media outlets, the group has received offers of books, as well as monetary donations. Author Kate Messner shared photos of the flood's impact on her blog.

NPR's Melissa Block discussed the flood damage with Azar Ward on September 1 and Ward said the library will face tough decisions.

We writers may prepare for personal loss of data, but libraries - which are limited by public tax dollars and annual book sales - may not be financially ready for a drain on resources.

My mom is a librarian and I grew up at school and in the library. I cannot imagine this kind of loss. More importantly, I can't imagine the impact of not having a library readily available.

Is your local library prepared for the unthinkable?

by LuAnn Schindler.  Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.


Unknown said...

Disastrous losses can happen so unexpectedly.
Thanks for the heads-up on the need to be alert & prepared!

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