Starting on July 26, flash flooding of historical magnitude devastated various counties in the states of Kentucky and Missouri. This has resulted in the death of at least 37 people, as well as the displacement of thousands of others. Other terrible consequences of the flooding include power outage, ruined roads, destroyed homes, and flooded schools. Andy Beshear, Governor of Kentucky, stated that over 600 people have been rescued since the beginning of the crisis.
The situation is so bad that President Joe Biden approved funding to support disaster relief efforts in Kentucky. This funding is, and will continue to be, much needed. Those most devastated by the flooding are communities with significant numbers of lower income residents. Beyond the already horrific circumstances, the overwhelming damage doesn’t end as soon as the flooding stops: more casualties will continue to be discovered, the power outages during the current heatwave will likely result in even more deaths, and the damage to the general infrastructure will no doubt take a long time to fix.
Of course, the flooding hasn’t only affected private residences. In an effort to assist booksellers affected by the flash flooding, Binc issued a plea asking donors to donate. But what can be done to help libraries, community hubs that take on even more significance in periods of crisis? In an attempt to find out, I reached out to several libraries in the affected counties.
Why libraries (and their communities) are important during situations like this
It might be easy to think that libraries being damaged is low priority, all things considered. But this is a short-sighted take: Stephen Bowling, director of the Breathitt County Public Library in Jackson, Kentucky, explained that “patrons were coming in to use the library’s internet connection to file claims with FEMA […] and some were looking for books and DVDs to ‘try to think about something else for a while’.”
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Liz McArthur, Director of Neighborhood Services at the St. Louis Public Library (SLPL), tells me that the SLPL was lucky, as they “only had two buildings with substantial damage. Both had several feet of flood water in the basements, where there are thankfully no books.” Because of this, they are working at full tilt to support their community: as usual, the “SLPL is dedicated to connecting residents with the resources they need, and we are certainly trying to do that with this situation. We have been promoting local organizations that are offering aid, such as the Urban League’s Distribution for Flood Victims next Saturday, and putting together a list of different resources that can be shared with the public for general help, such as utility outages or energy assistance. We’ve also had staff helping customers sign up for federal Disaster Relief.”
The Floyd County Public Library is also commited to helping their patrons through the flooding, primarily in the form of “collections to give away to those in need.” In this case, “they are connecting totes and children’s items that can take the recent traumatic events off the minds of the kids. The hope is to distract the younger kids and show them that we care about them.”
The more libraries I looked into, whether by talking to the staff or by going over their social media accounts, the more I noticed this pattern: damaged or not, they’re all highlighting ways to support their communities. The width and variety of the services they’re providing highlights even further the vital role they play: the Breathitt County Public Library, which maintains an active social media presence, announced on a July 31 Facebook post that all services would “be up and running to help our community” the following day. They specified nternet access, wifi, fax and copy services. They’re also doing collections, which are promptly given away to those in need: on August 8, after receiving a donation of cleaning supplies, they posted that “the items were donated to the Library’s cooling center and are already out in the community helping flood survivors.”
Even when the libraries have been badly damaged, as is the case with the Perry County Public Library (PCPL), they make sure to be available as their capacity allows: the PCPL stated on an August 2 Facebook post that they were closed for repairs and cleanup but would open in a limited capacity starting the following day. The breadth of the services provided is noteworthy: showers, wireless printing, limited book borrowing, and WiFi from the library’s parking lot.
How to Help Libraries
When I first reached out to librarians to ask what kind of help they needed, I expected to receive a list of items: money, cleaning supplies, tools. As it turns out, it did not go quite like that. On the contrary, every librarian that replied to me either told me that they didn’t need help at the moment or even directed me to other organizations that they claimed needed the help more. McArthur pointed me towards the American Red Cross and United Way of Greater St. Louis, although she mentioned that anyone who wanted to make a donation to support ongoing programs and resources at the SLPL should do so through the St. Louis Public Library Foundation.
So I find myself in a curious position: writing a piece about ways to help KY and MO libraries affected by the floodings when I haven’t received any reply about how, specifically, to help them. Instead, I was gently pointed towards how to help others. This may say a lot about libraries as community institutions, but not enough for me to accomplish my initial goal.
How, then, to help affected libraries? Financial donations are always a good idea. Cleaning and building supplies are almost certainly needed – if not by them, by the community that they are a part of. But overall? The safest bet is to contact your local library and ask what kind of help they need, whether for themselves or for the collections they are likely doing for their patrons. You can also keep an eye on libraries from the impacted regions via social media and help amplify calls for support to them or their communities.