This past weekend marked the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its destructive aftermath. Many of us were there, helping from the minutes before the storm hit to months later when people from all over pitched in however possible to rebuild and restore communities.

In 2006, LYRASIS received a $12 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Gulf Coast Libraries Project. We collaborated with the State Library of Louisiana, the Mississippi Library Commission, and library systems in the affected region. This partnership enabled us to provide grants to libraries to rebuild and refurbish their facilities.

The grant ran from August 2006 to July 2011. We worked with 9 library systems (Hancock and Harrison counties in Mississippi, and Cameron, Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Terrebonne, Vermilion parishes in Louisiana) and provided through them with temporary libraries. These temporary libraries were in trailers, temporary spaces and in bookmobiles. The goal of the project was to ensure library and public access services remained available and accessible to the residents and communities in hurricane-impacted areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. This goal was defined by 3 objectives.

Establish and support the operation of 21 temporary library facilities and book/tech mobiles to assist Louisiana and Mississippi library systems with damaged buildings.  Assist public libraries in planning for rebuilding by 

  • (1) facilitating a multi-day Rebuilding Summit, 
  • (2) providing state-based training sessions and technical assistance, and 
  • (3) distributing 13 local planning grants.

In conjunction to the $12.2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, additional support in excess of $57.6 million came to the area from local, parish/county, state and federal sources to restore library services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), gave $735,000 for the Gulf Coast Libraries Project. The Bush Clinton Katrina Fund and other area foundations and philanthropists also added thousands of additional dollars to ensure that the area and its libraries were restored.

Group Photo from Summit Meeting
Group Photo from Summit Meeting

In total, 21 temporary library facilities were established and during the duration of the project those temporary facilities were rebuilt and moved into permanent and secure buildings. We, together as a community, accomplished the objectives and goals. Twenty-one libraries were rebuilt into permanent facilities, funds were allocated and spent on staff and operating expenses, replacement of public access computers, and staff received consultation and training for designing a disaster plan. Furthermore, the work of the libraries, staff and aid to the community, the world saw first hand the impact libraries and how services were crucial in aiding restoration and support during this and future disasters. In January 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make libraries eligible for temporary relocation during major disasters and emergencies under the FEMA Public Assistance Program. FEMA declared library services essential to public services. For many, during the disaster, the library was relied upon for information, communication, and online access to family, friends and agencies that could help in finding aid to restore their personal lives and property. In many cases, the library was the only place disaster victims could go to find power, information and help.

Parallel to this project, we were also a part of another grant to help restore academic library services to the affected area.The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded for us grant funds to assist academic libraries in the Gulf Coast region with their recovery efforts. Nineteen academic libraries in the Gulf Coast region affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

LYRASIS, 10 years later, is proud of this collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mellon, all other granting agencies involved, the State Library of Louisiana, the Mississippi Library Commission and all of the impacted library systems. By working together, we were able to help the victims of the storm by rebuilding the libraries and helping restore services. We could not have done it without the help of the community and grants. Another disaster could strike anywhere, anytime, and LYRASIS will be there again to help as we can to rebuild and restore together.

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