April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

At School Library Conference, an Effort to Counter Sandy’s Damage

The Chatham Public Library in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Both school and public libraries are mobilizing to meet patron needs in the hurricane’s aftermath. Photo by Hannah Kerwin.

New York City’s school library community came together Tuesday and brainstormed ways to help school libraries that were impacted—in many cases severely—by Hurricane Sandy.

At the New York City School Library System’s (NYCSLS) 23rd Annual Library Fall Conference, librarians held an impromptu meeting to discuss how best to support affected school libraries, some of which suffered significant structural damage in the storm and continue to face hurdles such as temporary relocation, power outages and a shortage of supplies. Consequently, many of these libraries are unable to provide essential student services such as college application support.

Conference attendees discussed a relief plan that documents school librarians’ specific needs and then matches them with donors. The plan is expected to be implemented by the weekend. “The quicker we get it up, the happier we will be,” said Teresa Tartaglione, president of the New York City School Librarians’ Association (NYCSLA) and one of the plan’s designers. “But the reality is that the need will be there for a long time.”

Co-designer Jessica Hochman, coordinator of the library media specialist program at Pratt Institute, stressed the importance of identifying affected librarians’ precise needs in order to avoid what Tartaglione referred to as “cleaning out your attic” donations.

The plan, in the form of a Google Doc, will be sent out over the NYCSLA listserv with the names of the schools that need help. Librarians will post their requests, such as a call for books, supplies, or manpower. Efforts are also being made to keep some school libraries open late so that students from disrupted schools could be accommodated, but Tartaglione said that permits to extend building hours would be required before this could happen.

“We’re still not sure how many schools are displaced,” Tartaglione said on Thursday. But she hopes that as specific issues crop up over the coming days and weeks, volunteers will step up with their time and resources.

Hochman also plans to mobilize library science graduate students in the relief effort. Some students could use their expertise to create individual school library book lists, said Tartaglione, while others could work with high school students to ensure that they meet their college application deadlines.

New York City law requires individuals who work with children in a public school setting to have their fingerprints on file with the Department of Education. Since many LMS students at Pratt are fingerprinted, said Tartaglione, they would be able to work with students. They would be ideal for the task, said Hochman, because of their training in research and reference and their technology skills. Volunteer students who aren’t fingerprinted could assist with logistics and transportation. Hochman added that she has reached out to coordinators of LMS programs at Queens College and the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, in an effort to encourage similar initiatives at other city institutions.