New Orleans, LA --Main Branch of the Public Library -- August 17, 2007

If you'd like to contribute to the rebuilding, click here for the form to fill out and mail in with your donation. Monetary donations are the best way to help. However, if you'd like to make a book donation, please follow these instructions.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ronald Biava, the Executive Director of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation. He spoke not only with concern and love for the libraries of New Orleans, but also, thoughtfully, at a pace that matched the speed of my pen.

The New Orleans Public Library is rebuilding. In a nutshell, the flooding destroyed eight of the thirteen locations and half the collection. In the aftermath the staff was reduced dramatically. Before there were 216 employees. After, they reopened with roughly twenty people in five locations. Gradually, as people returned and revenue became available, the library managed to rebuild and refill. They are, right now, at about 150. They’re operating, but it’s very lean.

The community is supportive. Some neighborhoods are eager, if not insistent, or even demanding that libraries reopen.

It’s not a simple process to rebuild public facilities. They had hopes of more public money readily available, but were disappointed. For example, FEMA. They thought they would pay 90% of the costs for rebuilding, but it turns out they may wind up paying more like a third. It’s a long drawn-out process to get money from FEMA. FEMA reimburses. There is no money upfront. It’s a slow process.

They have made progress with private funding. They have reopened one flooded branch, one lightly damaged branch, and are on the verge of opening another branch.

They had five locations open. Now they have six and will soon have seven, and repairs are underway on two more. There are seven temporary branches, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They’ve made progress. In terms of money, they’ve done remarkably well. Their library had never raised major private funding before and they’ve raised five million since the hurricane, though they expect it will take thirty-five million.

They are determined to build the libraries better than they were before, to use the awful state they’re in to start fresh with better libraries and recreate the public library system.

A lot of folks while they were evacuated relied on public libraies in other cities for internet, to keep their kids busy. New Orleans people were impressed with the high standards other libraries had, in both the small towns and the large cities like Louisville, Nashville, and Memphis. And, there is opportunity. Opportunity to be supportive.

Everyone learned how important libraries are in disasters. Libraries were the only way to search for family, to interact with FEMA or insurance companies with the internet. The phone system was down.

Libraries play an important role in emergency communication and libraries, aside from google, help people find what they really want. Librarians provided a lot of disaster assistance, for instance, what agency to go to to solve particular problems.

The library website is Nutrias are in the rodent family—they’re big swamp rats, like a muskrat, and they are not found up north. Years ago, when libraries and universities were first putting info on line, they thought of browsers as gophers—you would send this electronic device to gopher something…but in Louisiana, they don’t have gophers, they have nutrias. Hence, the website.

When I told him where I was from he spoke enthusiastically about the San Francisco Public Library, as well as people and companies from San Francisco, which have been helpful and donated to the rebuilding campaign.

Again, if you'd like to contribute to the rebuilding, click here. Monetary donations are the best way to help. However, if you'd like to make a book donation, please follow these instructions.

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