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Region’s libraries rebuilding with help from their friends

With a little — make that a lot — of help from their friends, public libraries on the Coast are making a comeback from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Businesses, corporations, civic clubs and library patrons are assisting with repairs, rebuilding book and equipment collections and setting up temporary libraries in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

Replacing facilities

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided manufactured housing for temporary library branches in Pearlington, Waveland, Gulfport, Woolmarket and Biloxi. These facilities are free to the library systems for three years and are administered through the Southeastern Library Network.

The DuPont Delisle plant donated two trailers joined together to provide a temporary library in Pass Christian. Prior to receiving the temporary unit July 31, the Pearlington community was serviced by a mobile unit that was donated by the Alleghany Library System in Maryland.

Additionally, the Gates Foundation donated $12.5 million to help with other costs all along the Coast and $75,000 to buy books, according to Robert Lipscomb, director of the Harrison County Library System. He also praises Leo Seal of Hancock Bank for his contribution of $112,000 to help with technology needs and to Drew Allen of Allen Beverages for providing storage for books and other things the libraries were able to save.

“We’ve also had private donations through Friends of Library groups and a lot of books from around the country,” he says. “We will have a formal development campaign and fund raising to build new branches as we move along.”

He says the Americans for Libraries Council has promised $750,000 when rebuilding begins.

Lipscomb sums up the library system’s greatest need in one word: money.

“The fund drive on our Web site is ongoing, and we will need more funds as we start to rebuild,” he says. “We will build four new branches. The Orange Grove branch will include the system headquarters.”

Filling jobs

Manpower is currently a problem in Harrison County, too. The system had 74 employees before Katrina with 25% of those losing everything in the storm. At one point they were down to 42 employees, but now have 52.

The Harrison County System had five library branches totally destroyed: Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, D’Iberville and a children’s after-school library on Division Street in Biloxi. Also lost were 170,000 books and more than 100 computers.

Approximately 25,000 volumes were salvaged from the second floor of the beachfront Gulfport library. The fate of this elegant building, a downtown landmark, is not yet known although it has thus far been saved from demolition.

Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr is happy that the library’s administration office will be located at the Orange Grove branch. “In the downtown area, I would like to see a strong library that ties into cultural and art attractions for our citizens and visitors,” he says. “The city administration wants to help as much as possible and our involvement will evolve as decisions are made at the county level.”

The four-branch Hancock County Library System was also hit hard by Katrina. The Pearlington and Waveland branches were completely destroyed. The Kiln branch had some roof and water damage, and the Bay St. Louis branch had extensive damage. These branches, however, were able to open soon after the storm and were used as emergency and information centers.

Making contact

“At first, we were the only public building standing that could provide services such as faxes and phones and an air-conditioned building with clean restrooms,” says Mary Perkins, director of development. “Many residents needed to contact family and friends by using the satellite telephones or the wireless Internet access. Six thousand, five hundred people came through here to receive disaster food stamps.”

She says the 15 computers at the Bay St. Louis branch are used non-stop and all the branches are seeing approximately 5,000 people a month now. “People still don’t have computers and not much entertainment so they rent a lot of DVDs for entertainment,” she said. “Library customers can also bring their own laptops and access the Internet inside or outside the building.”

In addition to the facilities provided by the Gates Foundation, Perkins says the Hancock libraries have received support from local organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary clubs that have solicited support from other clubs around the country.

“The Hancock County Chamber of Commerce has been our salvation,” she adds, “and there are thoughtful things like a library in New Jersey that sent a box of goodies to the staff.”

Plans are now underway to build a new Waveland branch on the site of the one Katrina destroyed with partial funds provided by the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund through the Americans for Libraries Council. The Bay St. Louis branch will move into a trailer for eight months while damage is repaired.

Coming a long way

Not as devastated as Hancock and Harrison counties’ library systems, the Jackson County libraries had water damage to the Pascagoula headquarters, losing the entire first floor. Repairs were completed early this year and spokesman Rex Bridges says the library is getting back to normal.

“We’ve come a long way,” he says. “Through a lot of private and corporate gifts we will be able to carpet and re-do the upstairs to match the renovated downstairs.”

Donors include Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Signal International, Wal-Mart and small businesses all over the county. Boy and Girl Scouts in other states have held book drives and delivered the books to Pascagoula. Jimmy Buffet’s Singing for Change Foundation donated computers for the Pascagoula and Moss Point branches along with $75,000 to help with the second floor headquarters renovations.

“The building was built in 1986 and hasn’t been renovated since then. We are happy we can do it with these donations,” Bridges says. “We always get good support from our businesses in Jackson County.”

All eight branches are open with more than 228,000 items in circulation and 48,000 card carriers in Jackson and George counties.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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