Libraries, Archives, and Harvey Relief

We are now ending the fourth week since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast from Rockport to Beaumont. We have been engaged in Harvey-related activities in a number of ways:

  • On September 18, we opened our Rebuilding Texas Libraries disaster relief grants, to provide small grants to public, academic, and school libraries in restoring services and programs in the aftermath of Harvey. The grants provide up to $5,000 per location, multi-branch libraries can apply for $5,000 per location up to $25,000. We are committing $300,000 in LSTA funds and could possibly commit more depending on demand. We are grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for providing the approvals necessary to offer this grant program. I also thank our TSLAC staffers LSTA Coordinator Stacey Malek and Grants Administrator Erica McCormick for launching this project so quickly. I also appreciate the information from former State Librarian Peggy Rudd who informed me about grants TSLAC provided following Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Rita.
  • On September 14, I attended a convening by Amy Garmer of the Aspen Institute and Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson held at HPL, gathering together a number of local agencies and responders to discuss the emergency in Houston and the status of the ongoing recovery. Present at the meeting was Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, Stephen Williams, Director of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services as well as Assistant Director Judy Harris; Peter Beard, Senior Vice President of the Regional Workforce Development, Greater Houston Partnership; Tammy Kahn, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Houston; Laura Murillo, President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Edward Melton, Director of Harris County Public Library; and the list goes on and on with representatives from Houston ISD, Rice University, Ernst & Young, the Chinese Community Center, and many others. I had the very strong sense that this was one of the first opportunities many of these people had been able to sit down with other community leaders and actually consider what had happened, what they experienced, and what they had learned. We often speak of the role of the library as a convener of community dialogues, but it was striking to see exactly how impactful and transforming a meeting of that type can be.
  • I attended another gathering on September 21, organized by Michael Gillette, Executive Director of Humanities Texas at their office in Austin. This meeting was an opportunity for representatives of a number of organizations to meet with Lori Foley, FEMA Administrator of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force. Lori’s unit of FEMA is responsible for coordinating relief and recovery among cultural heritage institutions including libraries, archives, and museums. Also present was Jon Parrish Peede, Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This meeting was attended by persons such as Mark Wolfe, ED of the Texas Historical Commission; Rebecca Elder of the National Heritage Responders and the UT Austin iSchool; Wendy Woodland, Director of Communications for the Texas Library Association; Olivia Primanis, Board Member of TX-CERA; Gary Gibbs, ED of the Texas Commission on the Arts; Jennifer Coleman of the Texas Association of Museums, and many others. Each organization shared what they are doing to assist with Harvey recovery and the list is significant. Organizations such as National Heritage Responders, TLA, and TSLAC, are tracking damage; some such as THC and TSLAC are providing grant funding. All are committed to working together to provide whatever support is needed as the Texas gulf coast recovers.

We continue to gather information on recovery information from various sources:

  • TX-CERA – The Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance has been a key partner in providing valuable information to the array of organizations. Their website contains much great information about how to deal with damaged collection materials.
  • Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Disaster Relief Hotline – This group provides access to low-income Harvey survivors with post-disaster legal issues, such as accessing FEMA disaster aid, legal questions, landlord-tenant problems, and replacing vital documents. (Thanks to our friend Charlotte McCann for this referral.)
  • National Library of Medicine – The NLM has activated their “Emergency Access Initiative,” a collaborative partnership between NLM and publishers to provide full access to full-text from biomedical journals and e-books for libraries affected by Harvey.
  • National Endowment for the Arts – the NEH is making $1 million available to cultural institutions impacted by the natural disasters of Harvey and Irma. Museums, Archives, Libraries, and historical societies can apply for grants of up to $30,000. More information can be found in this press release on these grants.

We look forward to providing more information as we get it. Many thanks to everyone who has sent information to us. We also urge you to visit the TLA Texas Library Recovery Connection if you want to log a need for assistance or an offer of help.

Recovery update and resources

We are reaching the end of the week monitoring the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Throughout the week we have been working on various fronts to monitor the situation and plan our part of a response. We have had dozens of libraries report in on the status of their libraries and we are tracking those reports. Thankfully, the majority of libraries emerged with relatively light damage, mainly leaking roofs, light flooding, and some wind damage. Others were not so lucky. A few libraries sustained heavy damage as did the homes of many library staff.

We have also received many offers of support from various groups. We are also recording those offers and in some cases, have matched offers with libraries seeking assistance. Offers of help have come from all over the country, including California, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere. We have responded to every offer of support with gratitude and that we will be back in touch when we have a better idea what we need.

Our staff has also been working to launch an emergency grant program to help libraries offset some of the cost of recovery, or to help libraries serve individuals and families who have been displaced by the disaster. We have been greatly assisted in moving forward with that project by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, our federal partner agency. We look forward to sharing more information on the availability of those grants next week.

The Texas Library Association has put together a great selection of disaster recovery resources available here. We thank TLA Director of Communications Wendy Woodland and TLA Executive Director Patricia Smith for their great work during this crisis.

For archival and other special collections, the National Heritage Responders is a resource that can offer assistance. This group is a team of highly skilled conservators and other collections professionals with expertise in emergency response. If this pertains to your collection, you are urged to contact the NHR hotline at 202-661-8068 or e-mail nhr@conservation-us.org.

Another interesting development is Principals Helping Principals, a network of school administrators from around the country that has come together to help schools in need. School libraries can keep this in mind as a way for their principals to reach out to others for assistance.

And for archival collections, of which there are many in the disaster area, the Society of American Archivists has posted information on how to assess damages and recover collections as published by the Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF). Thanks to State Archivist Jelain Chubb for that link and for working to assemble information on the status of archival collections in the affected areas.

Finally, the definition of heroism is to extend a helping hand when you have your own challenges. The Houston Public Library, which is no doubt reeling from the impact of Harvey on its own system, has posted a set of disaster relief resources on its website. Thank you to Dr. Rhea Lawson and her team for this great resource.

We will continue to keep you apprised of resources in the coming days.