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Libraries and Museums Respond to Superstorm Sandy

November 06, 2012 ET

By Susan Hildreth
Director, IMLS

The images coming from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut shock and sadden us all. We know that employees of the affected museums and libraries are working doubly hard not only to clean up the homes of their own families, but also to reopen the institutions that are central to their communities. I am particularly struck by how vital these institutions are as emergency responders and when I see them go the extra mile to serve to their communities in times of need.

Once their power is restored, many libraries and museums have become places for residents to find a semblance of normalcy. Libraries serve as overnight shelters and as places for people to “camp out” to escape their cold, dark homes. Throughout the region, libraries are packed with people recharging their mobile devices, using computers to connect with family members online, and looking for ways to entertain children.

Queens Library Staff held story book time for children whose parents were choosing donated clothing, next to the Book Bus at Queens Library at Peninsula. A comforting story helped stressed kids and gave the adults a needed rest. Photo courtesy of Queens Borough Public Library.

Museums and arts organizations have become places of refuge and respite from long, trying days without heat and electricity, providing serenity in the wake of the storm, a place for community members to meet and share experiences, and a break for children whose schools are closed.

The New Rochelle Public Library extended their Sunday hours last week. They are extraordinarily busy with people using computers, electric outlets and books. Photo courtesy of New Rochelle Public Library.

Libraries and museums are also sharing expertise with the public and helping save endangered collections. Last Sunday, the Museum of Modern Art—together with the IMLS-supported American Institute for Conservation (AIC) Collections Emergency Response Team—presented a public forum about conserving flood-damaged artworks and collections. And Heritage Preservation was busy all weekend and throughout the storm using their Connecting to Collections online forum to link people to the expertise they need.

We know that the story of this storm is just beginning to be told, and in the coming days, weeks, and months we will learn more about how libraries’ and museums’ roles as community anchors and stewards of collections will help communities rebuild and reconnect.

Do you have a story about how your local library or museum helped with storm recovery?  Please let us know.

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