Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In the Aftermath of Sandy

I've been Director of the Caldwell Public Library for a little over a year now, and I've bookended that year with storms. I remember coming to interview right after Hurricane Irene, and was unable to make the first meeting due to blocked roads. Then, right after I started, we were hit with the October 29, 2011 Nor'easter. That snowstorm knocked down many trees and power lines, and I was gratified by the staff's response.

Exactly a year later, Hurricane Sandy hit on October 29, 2012. The staff and I were relieved to find that the library had escaped harm. While most homes and businesses were without power, the Library’s electricity and computer functionality remained operational, allowing them to serve the community.

For the second year in a row, the Library opened on Halloween and hosted members of the storm-ravaged community. Patrons filed into the library with laptops and cell phones, ready to charge their electronics and use the Wifi. Some patrons came to warm up, others to entertain their children. Many picked up books and read, waiting for electricity to be returned to their homes. Everyone was treated to some Halloween candy.

The library was definitely much busier than usual.Since none of the other area libraries were open, people relied on us, and we were glad that we were able to help. Staff members came in early, stayed late, brought power strips from home, and did everything possible to make sure that everyone was accommodated.

Library Assistant & Programming Coordinator Frances Larkey loved the shared sense of community. “Patrons were courteous and showed their appreciation. They understood the long waits for computer time, and the feeling of community was strong."  Library Assistant Pattie Mathieson said “we had limited computers and outlets, and it was great that people worked with us. It was warm in spirit as well as temperature, and people kept their sense of humor.”

By 3:00 PM on Halloween, over 97 people had logged into the library’s wifi. The next day saw over 200 users.  While the Caldwell Public Library is small, our doors remained open for the public. Children needed something to stay entertained, so Children’s Librarian Deborah Khost quickly advertised an impromptu showing of Disney’s Haunted Mansion in the Children’s Room. The movie idea went over so well that the next night the Library partnered with the Methodist Church and showed Cars II in their auditorium. The Methodist Church was open for community members who needed to get out of the cold, and by having the movie there, the library was able to offer more space to computer users who needed to access their wifi.

The Library’s Board of Trustees came to the rescue as well.  Many of them came in to volunteer, and helped with shelving, finding books for patrons, and they brought much-needed power strips. On Saturday, November 3, Library hours were extended until 5:00PM, although normal closing is at noon. The board members who volunteered allowed the library to remain open with limited staffing.

You don’t realize how many items are consumed when the crowd is larger than usual. We went through cups for water, toilet paper, and our wifi nearly stalled because of the number of simultaneous users. What was great, though, was the number of people who obtained a new card. People were able to log in and contact friends, relatives, and insurance companies.  They were able to get news on the situation and report their outages to PSE&G.

A week later we were hit with the second Nor'easter, and that snowstorm managed to do what Sandy couldn't: it knocked out our computer network. While we were still open and had power, we didn't have any computer availability. Staff looked up patron requests on smart phones, and in order to prevent too much of a backlog we trucked boxes of returns over to the Cedar Grove and Wayne Public Libraries so that we could check them in on their system. 

I continue to be thankful for the generosity of our community. Even during all of this, people donated cell phones to the Cell Phones for Soldiers program, and brought in canned good for the Food for Fines program which benefits the Caldwell Food Pantry. Some patrons made donations to the Caldwell Public Library Foundation, and others showed their support by attending the Mayors' Legacy for Literacy Gala.

It has been a very good year here at the Caldwell Public Library. I am proud to be part of this community, and I am thankful for the opportunity to work with such great people. You won't find better people than the staff of the Caldwell Public Library, and I am honored to work with them. - Adele

Halloween Movie Night

Part of our full house

Every available space was utilized

The community came together

Joint programming idea, special thanks to the Caldwell United Methodist Church

This says it all

More pictures of the library after Sandy are on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/caldwellpublic/ and you can access the Library’s website at http://www.caldwellpl.org

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