As any librarian will tell you...or the spouse of any librarian...libraries are much more than book despositories. Libraries are also public spaces, community resources, and storehouses of all sorts of valuable information, records, and professional know-how.
The Hancock County Library System sent us this note, and I'll shut up now, because they pretty much say it all:
Immediately after Katrina, many residents needed to contact family and friends by using the satellite telephones or the computers with wireless Internet access. Others needed copier and fax services or a table to spread out documents and fill out forms, or just a quiet, air conditioned building with clean restrooms. Some just needed a respite from the devastation outside and came in to read a newspaper, find out about friends, enjoy the air conditioning and the clean restrooms.
They came every week to get a copy of the daily disaster recovery news published by the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center. The Kiln Public Library became the Volunteer Registration Center for volunteers to register and residents to request assistance. The Bay St. Louis-Hancock County Library was used by the Department of Human Resources to distribute more than 6,500 disaster food cards.
Whatever their reason, they found a place where they could receive comfort and sometimes a listening ear from a courteous, professional, understanding staff. The library provided the calmness and connection in a world that was otherwise totally devastated.
A year after Hurricane Katrina, more than 3,000 people a month come into any of the three branches of the library system. And, both the Bay St. Louis-Hancock County Library and the Kiln Public Library provide free meeting space to community organizations, including the Hancock County Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Renewal and Rebuilding.
Congressman Gene Taylor and his wife, Margaret, are two residents of Bay St. Louis who lost their home and everything they owned to Katrina. Margaret Taylor, a long-time user of the library, said on a recent visit, “This library has become an oasis in the midst of devastation. Thank you for what you are doing for the community.”
To the staff and administration of the library, it is just part of their job and their mission of “providing the right information, at the right time, in the right format while acting as a conduit to and from other information sources and services.”
(You can see more photos and learn more about Hancock County libraries here.)