Hurricane Update: September 28

Hurricane Update: September 28

Here is today’s update on how the 2005 hurricane season has affected libraries. See also AL’s coverage since August 31. Anyone with first-hand information on the situation of librarians, libraries, and collections in the affected region, please email Library Hurricane News at American Libraries.

State Library of Louisiana, September 28:

Cameron Parish Library, Cameron: Director Charlotte Trosclair said September 28 the status of the libraries is not good. In Cameron there is just a slab left. There is nothing left of the two historical buildings of the Grand Chenier branch. There is nothing left of the Johnson Bayou branch. There is water in the Hackberry branch; she does not think it will be usable. The Grand Lake branch building seems OK.

Saint Martin Parish Library, St. Martinville: Director Jeanne A. Essmeier wrote September 26, “We are fortunate; damages are relatively minor to buildings and all staff is okay. The grounds are messy, but no trees down. The Cecilia branch has minor damage of a flat roof area; water is seeping into light fixtures and ceiling tiles in the juvenile section, the public restroom, and children’s room. The Breaux Bridge branch is the only facility with no power at this point. The Arnaudville branch has damage to the rail and ramp to the entrance; it was already on the city’s list of buildings to repair or refurbish. The Parks branch will require cosmetic repair to a few wall shingles and window caulking. The main library in St. Martinville is okay.”

Vermilion Parish Library, Abbeville: Director Jackie Choate wrote September 26, “Our branch here made it through beautifully. The Delcambre, Maurice, Kaplan, Gueydan, and Abbeville branches are fine. We have electricity in Maurice and Abbeville. Some of our others were not as lucky. The Erath branch had about a foot of water. All books on the bottom shelves are wet. We will start there tomorrow in packing what isn’t wet and bring here. Then we will move shelving and pull up the wet carpet. Will reappraise after that. The Cow Island branch is in a school and the school had water but the library is in a portable building and is higher. I can only hope. Should know about it tomorrow. KATC has a picture of the Pecan Island branch. Haven’t seen it yet, but I think we may have a totally damaged building. Waiting for the KATC site to finish updating the photo gallery.”

Vernon Parish Library, Leesville: Director Howard Coy Jr. wrote September 26: “Vernon suffered damage, but our staff are all ok. Electricity is out, and will be out for 7 to 10 days, no water, and phone service out in a large part of the parish, including some cell. The library had a rain gutter fly off, a leak in one corner of the building, and the upstairs archives area floor is wet. The archives seem to be safe and dry. Mold is growing on the carpet. We are closed, and will be probably all week.”

Georgia Archives, September 28:

Preservation Services Manager Christine Wiseman writes: “Between September 14 and 16, Ann Frellsen, collections conservator at Emory University, and Christine Wiseman, preservation services manager at the Georgia Archives, conducted assessments of archives and historical repositories in the three coastal counties of Mississippi damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Under the auspices of the Mississippi Archives, a small team visited nineteen sites that included public libraries, city halls, court houses, historical societies, museums, and private collections. Because of time constraints, we focused on examining damaged permanent and vital records in government facilities, and on local history and genealogical collections held in public libraries. In nearly every instance, preventing or halting mold growth was a major concern, given the lack electrical power and the expectation that power would not be available for several more days or weeks.

“In some cases we were able to confirm or discount earlier reports of damage. Public libraries in Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula, for example, were already on their way towards recovery, despite earlier reports of severe damage to their collections. Mold remediation and building drying activities, such as removing wet carpeting and drywall, were already underway. In the case of the Pascagoula Public Library, only several hundred volumes of replaceable materials were lost. Staff were concerned about the condition of the local history and genealogy collection, which was expected to remain in the building without power for several more weeks. The Biloxi Public Library suffered extreme damage to their general collection; the focus was on salvaging as much of the local history collection as possible.

“Some government buildings had basic services restored and were open to the public. Moss Point City Hall and Hancock County Court House in Bay St. Louis, for example, were open to the public, despite the damp and moldy volumes air drying in their hallways. We were told that ‘an official’ had told people that everything submerged in the floodwaters had to be thrown out. That directive may have caused vital records to be discarded before we arrived. We noted the amounts of damaged materials at all sites, so that the plans could be made for freezer trucks and climate controlled storage. In all cases we talked to staff about the importance of taking personal safety precautions and trained people to use on using respirators properly.”

Christian Science Monitor, September 28:

Regarding the wet documents at the New Orleans Notarial Archives: “Most documents were land deed records, very old,” says Lauren Reid, an executive vice president at Munters Moisture Control Service, a restoration firm in Glendale Heights, Ill. “Louisiana is a Napoleonic state. There’s a lot of historic records in that state.” Truckloads of papers from other damaged collections are on the way, Mr. Reid says. Twenty more trucks of wet documents are still being stabilized in New Orleans before being shipped.

The main building of the New Orleans Public Library stayed dry. But six of the 12 branch libraries were “pretty much devastated by flooding or rain damage,” says Wayne Everard, archivist for the library. Although water flooded the basements of two libraries at Tulane University, he says, “They think they’ll get a lot of important stuff recovered.” Already the American Association for State and Local History has raised funds to send RVs to affected areas. On those RVs are conservators from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Washington, D.C. Last week the first team of these volunteers arrived in New Orleans. Dressed in hard hats, hip boots, masks, and Tyvek suits, they visited libraries, historical societies, and other cultural agencies. “We’re doing assessments,” says Conover Hunt, a collection specialist in Hampton, Va. “That’s the first thing to do in deciding how to fix what got hurt.”

In another volunteer effort last week, Richard Pearce-Moses, president of the Society of American Archivists, was part of a team of archivists visiting three sites in Mississippi—Gulfport, Biloxi, and Waveland. They surveyed damage in city halls, a public library, a historical society, and other archival collections.

“Records collections were either completely destroyed by the storm surge or were in poor condition because of high humidity that causes mold growth,” Mr. Pearce-Moses says. The challenge now is finding space to move records from damp buildings to dry locations. At the Biloxi Public Library, the building is structurally sound, but the interior is filled with mud and mold. Locked inside is a collection of valuable historical photographs. “If we don’t get in there and have them frozen and then restored, we may lose the most significant collection of Biloxi history,” says Pearce-Moses.

The Society of American Archivists has a list of 200 archivists willing to donate time to help. But a lack of lodging, water, and food in affected areas prevents large numbers of volunteers from traveling to the area. Staff members from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History are commuting three hours a day each way to try to salvage collections.

In another sign of the collective effort involved, the National Archives is working to find freezer space to store books and documents until they can be treated, Ms. Bennett says. They are racing the clock. “The huge fear is that it may be too late,” says Paul Messier, a conservator of photographs and works on paper in Boston. “We almost couldn’t have a worse combination of elements—the initial wetting of the material, then prolonged exposure to high-level humidity. We’re looking to do our absolute best with what we are presented with.”

“People have simply forgotten about the archival collections, where most of their history resides,” says Faye Phillips, associate dean of libraries for special collections at Louisiana State University. “We really need to get that on the radar for future disaster plans. You can buy new library books if you can come up with the money, but you can’t buy new archives.”

Beaumont Enterprise, September 26–28:

Lamar University in Beaumont will continue with its fall semester, President Jimmy Simmons said, despite damage to some of the buildings from Hurricane Rita. He did not say, however, when students could return. Crews on September 27 were clearing debris from the Mary and John Gray Library’s top floor, Lt. Danny Bowden of the university police said. The University Reception Center on the 8th floor was substantially damaged after windows and window frames were blown out, sending howling wind and rain to destroy the interior. Water damage extended to the 7th floor where ceilings and carpets were damaged.

Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, September 28:

Phyllis Heroy, director of library services and instructional technology with the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, learned that the school district’s library’s “main warehouse was destroyed by Hurricane Rita” after receiving eight to nine inches of rain. “Everything we had in our warehouse was destroyed, including donations we had received [since Katrina]. It goes from bad to worse . . . and more storms are predicted.”

SirsiDynix, September 28:

Huntsville, Alabama–based ILS vendor SirsiDynix announced, in cooperation with the Mississippi Library Commission, an appeal to its customers to donate quality PCs for use by Mississippi libraries in serving people and entire communities affected by Hurricane Katrina. Libraries along the Mississippi Gulf Coast destroyed and severely damaged, as well as libraries serving evacuees elsewhere in the state, are in need of PCs to meet the emergency demand for Internet access to FEMA and other disaster recovery resources.

Mississippi libraries and the people they are seeking to serve will benefit from ready-to-use PC units with the following specifications:

  • Complete unit, including base, monitor, mouse, keyboard, cables, and operating system and browser software installed
  • Recently manufactured—no more than three years old
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP operating system
  • Intel Pentium III or better microprocessor
  • 256MB minimum RAM; 512MB preferred
  • Internet ready with updated browsers
  • FEMA form capable (Java scripting)
SirsiDynix customers or other libraries able to donate PCs and cover shipping costs may contact Treasure Stover of the Mississippi Library Commission to facilitate the matching of donors to Mississippi libraries in need of additional computers.

Tryon (N.C.) Daily Bulletin, September 26:

The Polk County (N.C.) Public Library has adopted the Long Beach (Miss.) Public Library, which was damaged substantially by Hurricane Katrina. The staff learned of the loss of the library through a Long Beach resident, Jean Sneed, who had come to stay with relatives in Polk County. Her house is still standing with little damage, but everything south of the railroad track to the beach is totally destroyed. She had asked her son, who is camping out in her house, to return her library books. He called back to tell her that he couldn't because the library drop box was gone and the building was badly damaged.

Contact was made with the library director, Jeannie Ripoll, through the Mississippi Library Commission’s Small Library Systems Consultant Katherine Buntin. Ripoll said the only library book that she knew of that was still usable is a Scrabble dictionary. Others that had been checked out have survived and are being returned by mail. The entire building and all other city buildings except the fire station are totally destroyed or so badly damaged they are not salvageable. The Polk County Public Library is selecting books from all areas that have been donated or deaccessioned to send to the Long Beach Library. Each book will have a plastic book cover put on it and a spine label so that they will be “library ready.” Cynthia Terwilliger, Polk library’s community relations specialist, is coordinating delivery of the books.

The American Library Association’s “Adopt a Library” site is at

Posted September 28, 2005.