Library Helps Rebuild Springfield
In the wake of several powerful tornadoes on June 1, 2011, the Library reopened the next morning to provide services and internet access for people in desperate need. From that day forward, the Library was an essential service to the community, and staff participated in all Rebuild Springfield meetings.
Tornados are very rare in New England. On June 1, 2011, however, powerful (EF3) tornadoes touched down on Springfield, MA, laying waste to large swaths of land, uprooting huge trees, and destroying houses, schools, churches and businesses. The City, already reeling from a downturned economy, had to face the challenge of providing important services to those most in need. It was also time to begin the rebuilding process. The City enlisted assistance from a group of firms, one of which had coordinated efforts after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The effort was called “Rebuild Springfield.” The Springfield City Library knew it could and should play an important role in this citywide recovery and rebuilding effort.
InnovationIn the face of this disaster, the Library drew inspiration and confidence from its new Strategic Plan, “A Brighter Future for Springfield Today.” This plan positioned the Library as a central force and player in the fate of the City [ULC Top Innovator Award, 2011, http://urbanlibraries.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=648].
On June 2, the day after the tornado, it was announced that only “essential” City services would be available to residents. The Library, however, determined that it was important to step up and consider itself essential in this emergency. Library locations that had electricity opened their regular hours. The response by the people was stunning. Over 1,500 people visited the libraries that day, some to borrow materials, and many others to use the public computers and wireless access to learn of the scope of the disaster, to check on the status of family and friends, and to let their loved ones know they were all right. People also needed to find out where to go for help and housing, and how to file insurance claims. They could not do any of this without the libraries.
Once the City embarked on its “Rebuild Springfield” effort, enlisting the aid of outside consultants who were familiar with dealing with disaster recovery and planning vibrant spaces, the Library immediately got involved. Staff met with the consultants and planners, shared the library’s vision, and participated in several meetings in all neighborhoods and across the City. This was an opportunity to make people aware of the Library, its role and services, and to let them know that the library was there for them. New collaborations were forged.
ProgressIn addition to a great deal of positive outreach and awareness by the public and City government, the Library was featured several times in the final report on the “Rebuild Springfield” effort. http://rebuildspringfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/FINAL-EXEC-SUM-2-27-12-reduced.pdf
Under the section on Education, the first recommendation was to “Put schools and libraries at the center of creating a nexus of places, programs and access to technology to meet the Community’s need.”
An unexpected but welcome result of the community meetings in the East Forest Park neighborhood was that participants began a movement to replace the inadequate leased space of one of the library’s branches with a new branch library. A “Major Move” in the Report was that this new facility would be constructed on the grounds of the Mary Dryden Memorial School that had been demolished by the tornado! So, the hope is that from the ashes can emerge a great new school and a new full-service public library as well.
The Report viewed the school and library project to be an important “community hub coordinating with other facilities and services.” The hope is that the new branch library will “extend hours and offer a multitude of services and amenities for students and the community at large.”
In the face of an unexpected natural disaster, the Library unhesitatingly acted essential and proved to be essential to the people of the City. It did not hesitate to pitch in, both in the immediate aftermath of the storms, and later also in the important planning that needed to rebuild the City. If there is to be a “Brighter Future for Springfield Today,” the Library has made it clear to residents and City leaders that it can and will play a pivotal role in the process.