'Adopt a Library' to Rebuild Gulf Coast Collections

A new "adopt a library" program aims to help re-stock Gulf Coast libraries flooded or destroyed by hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Jason DeRose reports on the initiative, sponsored by the American Library Association.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY.

Along with homes and businesses, Hurricane Katrina destroyed or damaged many libraries along the Gulf Coast; so did Rita. Librarians are only beginning to understand the extent of what was lost as they tour the debris. Now library associations around the country are working to help those libraries restock and rebuild. NPR's Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DeROSE reporting:

The offices of the American Library Association in downtown Chicago are filled with books...

(Soundbite of packaging tape being used)

DeROSE: ...and the ALA's Michael Dowling is packing up whatever's around. Eventually, he'll send them down South to help restock libraries. He says it's about more than giving people in devastated areas a good read.

Mr. MICHAEL DOWLING (American Library Association): Libraries are a cornerstone of the community and essential when--any time--as far as for a normal situation or especially in a time of crisis--to help as a resource center.

DeROSE: Hurricane Katrina destroyed two-thirds of the public libraries in Harrison County, Mississippi, and soaked an estimated quarter-million books there. And in its small way, the ALA is sending the books on its giveaway shelf to begin restocking down South.

Mr. DOWLING: "The Annual Review of Political Science," "Key Events in African History," "Mary Shelley Encyclopedia."

DeROSE: Mississippi's state librarian Sharman Smith toured the devastated Division Street Library to assess what's needed.

Ms. SHARMAN SMITH (Mississippi State Librarian): The computers were tossed around, there are books on the floor, there is this toxic--what they refer to as sludge everywhere on everything.

DeROSE: This library served a very poor community, and there's no other public library for miles and miles around. Just a block from the beach is the main public library in Biloxi; it took about four feet of water. Smith say there, a lot of archival material was lost.

Ms. SMITH: Very, very early photographs of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, original maps of the area, photographs, ironically, of Hurricane Camille in 1969, which, at that time, we thought was devastating.

DeROSE: Five parishes in southern Louisiana also lost collections. Half of the libraries in Orleans Parish alone are gone. Louisiana's state librarian Rebecca Hamilton says there were only two public libraries in St. Bernard's Parish. Both were destroyed.

Ms. REBECCA HAMILTON (Louisiana State Librarian): It's going to be devastating for a little while, but I anticipate, you know, the resolve of Louisiana people and our Louisiana librarians that we're going to all work as hard as we can to get everything back on track. It's just going to take a little while.

DeROSE: What it will take is money to resurrect the buildings and books to fill the shelves. So the Texas Library Association has started a program it's calling the Texas Two-Step. The first step is to collect money to rebuild the structures. The second is to mount a nationwide book drive. Librarian Gloria Meraz says they're asking for children's books and general fiction. And while it may be easy to replace the latest Philip Roth novel, she says there are needs donors might not think of.

Ms. GLORIA MERAZ (Librarian): In particular, we are trying to find materials related to Gulf Coast history, because we suspect much of what was already there has been lost.

DeROSE: The American Library Association has also begun what it's calling the Adopt A Library Program, pairing school, public and college libraries around the US with specific damaged and destroyed libraries along the Gulf Coast to work together to rebuild, restock and eventually reopen. Jason DeRose, NPR News.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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