wildfires that devoured great chunks of San Diego County
starting Sunday October 26, 2003, didn’t get San
Diego’s mountain libraries, but they came close.
Crouch, director of the San Diego County Library,
commended the entire San Diego County Library staff on
November 7, 2003 “for working so well as a team and
pitching in where needed.” Crouch reported that four
staff lost their homes and in one week San Diego staff
had contributed $4,155 for their colleagues “to start
the process of recovery”.
the fire’s aftermath, San Diego’s rural libraries -
the Julian, Lakeside and Crest branches particularly -
evolved into more than just places for patrons to borrow
books and log-on to the internet. The libraries became
safe havens with information tables stocked with
application forms from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) and other relief agencies. And San
Diego’s library staff became more than information
specialists: they became relief liaisons.
Crest, for example, the fire (http://www.thecrestsun.com/fire.html)
came within only a half block of the tiny library. Two
hundred and twenty of Crest’s 966 homes burned to the
ground. When Elisa James, Crest’s branch operations
manager, was able to return to the facility on
Wednesday, there was no electricity - no lights, no
computers. But, James said, “ I came anyway…people
needed somewhere to go…somewhere to tell their
stories.” Far from “shushing” people, James and
her colleague, Elizabeth Lucas, “welcomed” that
talk. James said that she and the rural library team “
knew that people were not interested in checking out
books. They just needed to be there.”
Crest library, like all San Diego “back country”
libraries, opened for three consecutive Mondays so
residents could have access to the Internet and use the
telephone, luxuries in the fire-ravaged community.
“Our purpose was to help the community; not add to
their burden,” said James.