Everyone knows that libraries are centers for learning. But after a disaster, libraries often take on an even more crucial role, providing dependable centers of communication and safety for the community in the aftermath of a storm.
The digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), a cooperative digital library for resources from and about the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, has administrative offices located at FIU. Program Director Miguel Asencio knew that many dLOC institutions were located right in Irma’s path, and even during the storm, kept trying to communicate with as many partners as possible.
After Irma passed, FIU Libraries Dean Anne Prestamo reached out to the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association in the world. With more than 56,000 members, ALA is dedicated to the development and promotion of library and information services. While based in the United States, ALA helps libraries around the world, a mindset that dovetails nicely with the FIU belief that community is never limited by geography.
Asencio, Prestamo and Michael Dowling, director of ALA’s International Relations Office, discussed the best way to provide Irma relief. When hurricanes hit, ALA state local chapters often lead the response effort, as with the Texas Library Association after Hurricane Harvey. Here, a different plan was needed. FIU had already begun opening lines of communication and gathering status reports and updates, so ALA would take in donations to help the many libraries in the Caribbean affected by Hurricane Irma, using information reported by FIU to determine how to best employ the money raised.
Asencio views this as a perfect partnership.
“ALA has the expertise, and we already have connections in place,” he says, “so we’re collaborating with each other and with the communities directly.”
This collaboration has spread through FIU, with the Division of Information Technology and the Office of Engagement helping to secure requested items and outside sponsorships, and to groups such as the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL).
By helping libraries re-establish services, FIU is also providing “areas for child schooling and care services, sources of important, local, official information and a place for people to gather for meetings and events,” according to Asencio. For example, after all the residents of Barbuda were relocated to Antigua, the Minister of Education decreed the National Library of Antigua and Barbuda would serve as a schooling facility for more than 500 students in primary and secondary levels. Other libraries, such as the Philipsburg Jubilee Public Library on St. Martin, have been severely damaged and will need to be rebuilt.
The first shipment of supplies is expected to leave soon due to the hard work of everyone involved in the initiative.
“FIU is a knowledgeable and reliable partner in identifying need and ensuring funds are used for the most pressing and vital essentials,” Prestamo says.
Asencio agrees. “It’s great to know that ALA sees FIU as a trusted partner in recovery efforts.”