Southern California libraries show their best
from the State Librarian:
goodness that we did not lose any libraries in the October 2007 Southern
California fires. When I became aware that some of our libraries were used as
deployment or rescue centers and that our library staff had volunteered to
assist fire victims, we started collecting stories on how our libraries were
used during this terrible crisis and how we were able to serve our communities
under the most stressful conditions. I would like to thank the folks who took
time to contribute the following first hand accounts. They show California
libraries, and the great people who work in those libraries, at their finest.
from County of Los Angeles Public Library
Hungerford, Assistant Director Information Systems [reporting between
October 21, 2007 and October 25, 2007]
Fire Department utilized the Malibu Library as part of its command post for the
Malibu fire. On October 22 we received a call from the Fire Department requesting that we
create log-on IDs so that Fire staff could use the Library's public access
Internet computers and our public WiFi service for writing and transmitting
reports and e-mail.
As part of
the Operational Area, the County Public Library was assigned to provide support
to the Department of Public Social Services for care and shelter services.
Libraries may be used to distribute disaster information, provide information
and referral services and in an extreme disaster, may serve as shelters. During
these fires our role was limited to the use of the Malibu Library and
distributing public health advisories.
entered status reports on a daily basis into the County's Emergency Management
Information System during times of emergency. This web-based system collected
high level summary status data for all 88 cities in the County and every County
Department. We also used this system to monitor emergencies, responds to
requests for support from the County's Emergency Operations Centers or request
support if needed for our agency.
from San Diego Public Library
Moss Hubbard, Senior Public Information Officer, San Diego Public Library
firestorms were trying for the people of Southern California. This was
particularly true in San Diego where over 250,000 people were evacuated in the
path of the fires and smoke. While many of the staff members at the San Diego
Public Library (SDPL) were directly affected by the evacuation, SDPL made a
valiant effort to serve as many residents as possible and help restore a sense
of normalcy. At the height of the fires on Tuesday, October 23, 11 of our 35
libraries were closed, but staff worked quickly to re-open facilities and all
libraries were back in operation on Thursday.
National Guard members at the
Rancho Peñasquitos Branch Library
using the Internet to connect with friends and family.
[Photo courtesy San Diego Public Library]
people the library was one of the few places during the fires that they could go
for free information, resources, and to connect with the outside world. Even
National Guard members who were in San Diego to assist with the fires used the
Internet at the libraries to connect with friends and family. With schools shut
down, many SDPL branches had extra programming for children, including
opportunities for kids to create pictures that illustrated how they felt about
the terrible events happening around them.
at Malcolm X Branch Library expressed their feelings about the fires raging
in San Diego.
[Photo courtesy San Diego Public Library]
Stadium was pressed into service as a major evacuation center, SDPL's Central
Library and Friends of the Library Groups delivered books to the stadium to help
comfort evacuees and occupy their time until they could find other
accommodations or return to their homes. Anne Porter, a Qualcomm volunteer who
coordinated with the Central Library Deputy Director, Bruce Johnson said, "…thank
you personally for opening your heart and the library's resources to kids and
adults who were lost and afraid…you are a hero and make the library great and
San Diego an amazing place to live."
Bernardo Library, in the heart of the firestorm area, was already one of the
most visited and highly circulating branches in the SDPL system. It served as an
annex to the City's Local Assistance Center, offering services and support to
fire victims. Since the fires, even more customers, including those in outlying
areas, are visiting this branch. To assist customers with their informational
needs, the library is purchasing additional library materials to replace lost
and damaged materials and to support the rebuilding efforts, which includes
materials on topics such as reconstruction, interior decorating, landscape
architecture and recovering from traumatic loss. In addition, the Library
Foundation has agreed to cover approximately $10,000 in costs of library
materials that were destroyed or damaged in the homes involved in the fires.
in a crisis, we never know how we will respond. The firestorms of 2007
demonstrated the character, heart and service that is so integral to the San
Diego Public Library and its staff, who made an indelible mark on the lives of
so many in the community in their time of need.
from San Diego County Library
Coleman, Youth Services Librarian, San Marcos Branch
San Diego Parking lot with flames coming over the ridge; evacuated people
are camping in the parking lot on October 23, 2007 in the early morning.
[Photo courtesy San Diego
morning as we listened to the news of fire making its way into Escondido, we
began to pack our bags and make phone calls to a list of friends to determine if
they were safe or needed any assistance packing or evacuating. By
two that afternoon homes one block south of us were evacuated and as the smoke
became thicker and family members began to experience difficulty breathing we
decided to leave. The Coleman family spent a little time at a friend’s
apartment in central Escondido making arrangements for our night’s stay.
Oceanside would be the evening’s destination. The Baha’i community of
Oceanside opened the doors to its local Center and families from Escondido and
Valley Center found refuge there. Tuesday morning as the families
were gathered we began to consider how we could help others affected by these
fires. One friend contacted the local evacuation site, El Camino High
School, to inquire as to their needs. Help with the children, was the
reply. So a friend who plays guitar and four others of us, packed children’s
instruments and crayons and coloring pages and drove to the High School. I’ve
often seen images of evacuation sites broadcast on the television, but the
experience of actually walking into one caused me to hesitate momentarily upon
entering as my heart filled with empathy. After breathing deeply and
taking in the vision of a sea of cots, the sound of reverberating voices and
continuous movement, we were escorted to the center of the room where an
activity center was arranged. Our small group began to sing children’s
songs and the young ones along with their parents came quickly to join in the
fun of playing instruments, dancing and singing. After two hours of
singing every childhood song we could think of, talking with children that were
coloring, sculpting with play dough, and playing board games it was time for
dinner to be served. So we gathered up our things and said good-byes to
the young friends we had made. The sights of smiling children’s
faces along with those of their parents are the most striking memory of my
experiences from this past week.
Thank-you sign from Spring
Valley branch library to firefighters.
[Photo courtesy San Diego County Library]
Zyroff, Principal Librarian and Public Information Officer, San Diego County
Library [reporting from Lemon Grove
affected by the wildfires have been coming in to the Lemon Grove
Library all week. I had a customer today who said that "one of
the first things" she grabbed when she got evacuated were her library books
so that they wouldn't burn up and also so that she would have something to do
while she was at the evacuation center. Another customer, an elderly
woman, came in and told me that her son had just lost his home in Poway. He
lost everything they owned. She wanted to print out the GTM stores coupon
from the Internet so that she could buy them some items. She said she had
never used a computer before, so I printed it out for her from the Internet and
she was very thankful for my help. Yesterday, a very disoriented customer
from Potrero came in and she said luckily her house only had wind damage.
She was very frazzled and I was open to listening to her story. She said that
the Harris fire practically started in her backyard. She left feeling
better and I felt good that I could help her by just hearing her story.
It's difficult not to cry when they tell you their story. I was glad we
were open this week to serve people at this time of crisis. We were very
busy and checked out a lot of movies and books to families with children
who couldn't leave the house.
SDCL East Mobile Library
staff snapped this photo November 14, 2007 their way to their regular stop near
the Rincon Reservation in San Diego County.
[Photo courtesy San Diego County Library]
Slade, Librarian II, Ramona Branch [also reporting on
Poway Branch area]
I left my
Rancho Bernardo home today [Monday October 29th, 2007] to venture into the “before
and after the fires zones.” Some of the “before zones” in Poway were
left untouched At first the tranquil images of suburban Poway filled my
vision as I traveled through north side of the canyon where secluded custom
built ranch homes dot the green hilly landscape surrounded by huge boulders and
white picket fences. On public fences along the highway there were
handmade murals on butcher paper in bubble letters that said, “Thank you
fireman!” But other than these signs, there was no vestige of fire.
further into Poway, the “after zones” that are closely adjacent to the
untouched areas bore out another reality. The fire cannibalized the canyon
and consumed the once wide open green space; replacing the verdant hills with
rubble, ashes and knotted blackened tree trunks. Sporadic tattoos of red
fire retardant were dumped and smeared on the blackened earth next to the
“Evacuate livestock here,” “Rosie is back,” “Pray for us,” and “You
have a friend in Jesus” were posted along the rustic road as I descended into
Ramona. To my right I saw a makeshift altar of silk flowers, perhaps in
tribute to the people who died or sacrificed their home, livestock or
labor. As I approached Ramona, some of the horses, haystacks and quaint
lifestyle remained. Not all was lost; the fire somehow erratically skipped
round pouncing on some homes and miraculously ignoring others. Everywhere
a smoky chemical smell something like burning plastic mixed with greasy barbeque
grill ashes permeated the atmosphere. As I moved closer to the commercial
area of town a big sign that prominently advertised, "Anxiety
counseling," in chipped green and white paint hung outside of a shabby
2007 Harris Fire damage
outside the Potrero branch library
[Photo courtesy San Diego County Library]
beautiful day and the overwhelming feeling of “thank God I did not lose my
house,” I could not help to think what it was like for the people who did not
have towels, bedding or a roof over their head with an unknown rebuilding period
hanging the balance.
I went into
the public library and noticed that yellow tape was over the drinking fountain
as water had not been restored yet. Despite the tragedy of the last week,
there was an espirit de corp feeling that could be felt in the library, as well
as the supermarket, feed store and barber shop. No matter if you were in Ramona,
or Rancho Bernardo, people were helping each other out and wanting to tell their
story of how they left or lost their homes at 4:00 am with trees falling and
traffic backed up waiting to flee the fires.
My once quiet
suburban neighborhood has been visited by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger,
President Bush and FEMA. Where houses once stood, there a signs that read,
“ACME Demolition” or “Termites Finally Gone.”
things do not seem very funny, I bought a Halloween half mask of an owl with an
orange nose that cackles on my face or in my purse….depending on how funny or
absurd I want to feel. However, I don’t want to put on a witch mask or be
named after the Witch Fire that burnt down some 300 homes in my small area of
all down helps let it go and makes room for the new changes that will
undoubtedly occur in the future. It compartmentalizes and synthesizes
reality into smaller mouthfuls that can be digested by the overwhelmed
mind. It is often said that life deals us a large pill that we
cannot even lick, let alone swallow. Be that as it may, I am sharing this
with you to let it go. I do not want the experience to stick in my throat
like a peach pit and choke off my breathing with memories of smoke.
now 193.5 hours since the first San Diego fire was discovered and we are 70 to
90% contained. I just watered my roses and checked to see if they are
still growing. Good news: the roots survived and the flowers will
flourish again. I take my best lessons from nature and keep planting…..The
color of hope is green.