In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many people in the impacted area sought refuge in public libraries for light and heat, charge their cell phones and other mobile devices, and to access the Internet, as well as read books and periodicals. In some places, residents were able to register with FEMA at libraries. The New York Public Library (NYPL) even fed a few hundred people on Staten Island.
While many people were able to find refuge in public libraries, some branches of the three library systems that serve New York City and some municipal libraries in small towns were forced to close due to storm damage or power outages. The NYPL staff was able to rapidly re-open libraries that had been closed in the storm’s aftermath. The Friday after Hurricane Sandy struck, the NYPL saw a 20% increase in visitors.
The NYPL represents a public-private partnership (a combination of a private foundation and local government, similar to Chicago’s museums and zoos). It serves three of the five boroughs of New York City – the isle of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island – but not Brooklyn and Queens, which are served by the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library (Queens Borough Public Library).
On Sunday, November 5, 2012, the New York Public Library, now known as The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, was closed, as are all other branches and research libraries in the system. Five branches remained closed Monday, November 5, 2012 as the city recovered from Hurricane Sandy.
The Soundview Library in the Bronx re-opened by November 7th and the Van Cortlandt Library in the Bronx re-opened on November 7th. The South Beach Library on Staten Island re-opened on November 8th. This left two branches closed: the Hamilton Fish Park Library on the isle of Manhattan, and the Dongan Hills Library on Staten Island.
Through the end of the week, Saturday, November 10, 2012, the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Bronx Library Center operated on special schedules. Two libraries operated without phone service: the Library for the Performing Arts and the Science, Industry and Business Library. The Hamilton Fish Park Library in Lower Manhattan and the Dongan Hills Library on Staten Island re-opened by the end of the month.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, the NYPL donated food that was supposed to be used for its annual, black-tie Library Lions fundraising gala, “to feed Staten Islanders who have suffered devastating losses in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,” stated Angela Montefinise, NYPL Director of PR and Marketing. The Library Lions fundraiser would have been held on Monday, November 5, 2012, but was cancelled after a power outage at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The hot meals, prepared by Manhattan-based catering company Glorious Food, included macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad, garlic bread, Beef Bourguignon with fall vegetables, puree of rutabaga and potato, and Apple Brown Betty.
City employees helped distribute the food on a first come, first served basis at three locations: Ariana’s Grand, Susan Wagner High School, and The Staaaten. Ms. Montefinise explained Ariana’s Grand “catering hall – owned by Frank and Marie Dimattina – was seriously damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Unable to open for business, the owners transformed the hall into a makeshift shelter, serving food and collecting supplies for their neighbors in need.”
The City of New York’s Department of Homeless Services established a hurricane shelter in the high school. Gary Li Greci, owner of The Staaten, donated space. City Councilwoman Deborah Rose worked with community groups to help organize the meal.
“I would like to thank the New York Public Library for their generosity during this time,” Borough President James P. Molinaro said. “I am certain that the donated meals will be welcomed by the hundreds of Staten Islanders who have been left homeless and in need after Hurricane Sandy.”
“As the temperature falls and many Staten Islanders continue to be without electricity, heat and food, it is important that we come together to help our neighbors get through this challenging period,” stated North Shore Councilwoman Debi Rose. She added, “Words cannot fully express how appreciative we are of the New York Public Library for its donation of meals.”
“Since Hurricane Sandy, we have been inspired by stories of New Yorkers helping and supporting each other, doing everything possible to get their city and their neighbors back on their feet,” stated NYPL President Anthony W. Marx. “We are dedicated as ever to serving our communities in any way we can. In the days following the storm, New Yorkers flocked to our branches, using our Internet, charging their phones, enjoying free programming or just talking to their neighbors. It has been a clear reminder of how the city’s residents rely on and appreciate their libraries. This food donation is just another example of how NYPL is working to help New York recover. We sincerely hope it helps.”
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building closed on Sunday, December 2, 2012 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to “transform into a merry winter wonderland for our annual Holiday Open House” for the Friends of the Library. This included puppet shows, storytellers, circus acts, arts and crafts, face-painting, the Grinch, Scrooge, Mother Goose, Frosty the Snowman, Christmas carols, tours of the Rose Main Reading Room, and exhibitions “Lunch Hour NYC” and “Charles Dickens: The Key to Character.”
First Book delivered 30,000 books to Hurricane Sandy-ravaged New York City. The United Federation of Teachers, the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, asked First Book for 30,000 children’s books for kids in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. On November 12, 2012 four employees of First Book, helped by volunteers, loaded a twenty-six-foot truck with 30,000 books, and delivered them to a warehouse in Lower Manhattan, where they unloaded, sorted, and labeled the books for distribution.
On the morning of Thursday, November 15, 2012, First Book gave away its 100,000,000th book to a child since its foundation in 1992. The event at which the one-hundred-millionth book was given away occurred at Martha’s Table, a homeless shelter, in Washington, D.C.
A four-year-old girl, Chase-Kennedy Williams, was the recipient of the one-hundred-millionth book, a copy of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (1904-1991). To decide what the one-hundred-millionth book should be, the group held a contest, and 12,000 people voted in the Ten Books Every Child Should Own contest between October 29, 2012 and November 9th.