Library Getting Outpouring of Donations After Flood

by ekramer on August 20, 2009

Individual households and organizations as large as the University of Louisville are continuing the clean-up and reparations after this month’s flash flood. And the Louisville Free Public Library is working on overcoming nearly $5 million in damages to its main branch. Meanwhile, the response the library has received since August 4 has come from both the local community and via the virtual world. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

Greg Schwartz is a manager at the library, and on August 4th, he was downstairs at about 9 that morning when he saw water near a men’s room door.

“I was completely surprised,” he says, “to open the door and find both urinals and both toilets overflowing — just gushing water.”

Library FloodedHe and other staff tried to stop — then sop — the water, before evacuating the building. Then he sent out a message via Twitter to librarians he’s befriended through a loosely-knit group calling itself the Library Society of the World.

Steve Lawson, a librarian in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says he read this note: “’It’s a hell of a day so far. Thanks to everyone sending the well wishes.’”

Through links Schwartz sent, Lawson looked at photos and read news reports. They got him thinking about what he could do.

“Late that night,” he says, “I wrote a post on my blog.”

Not only did he write about the calamity, he put a PayPal button up so people could give money for the library and set a $5,000 goal by Sept. 1.

“The first donation was at 5:30 in the morning my time,” he says.

And in less than 24 hours he raised $1,000. His total so far stands at more than $3,000 from 94 people.

Since then generosity towards the Louisville Free Public Library has come from far and wide.

At the library’s main branch up to 160 people have been at work on some days: cleaning, hauling, sorting and starting to rebuild. Library director Craig Buthod has been splitting his time between the donated space for library staff in the Heyburn building and here. He says one early encounter with the largesse was when a library staffer went to purchase computer equipment.

“We had to capture the data on the library’s file servers and offload it to external hard drives. So, we went out to Best Buy and the manager at Best Buy said, “You need some help this week. We’re going to donate the hard drives.”

Other businesses have been giving as well — from area grocery stores donating food for the workers’ lunches to an Indiana publishing company donating $3,000 worth of services to help restore any books. And a local blogger has organized a bake sale.

Mary Hunt is executive director of the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation, which raises money for the library.

“I immediately started getting calls,” she says, “about people wanting to help: people wanting to help dry out books; help clean up; make gifts. It was amazing.”

So far, the Library’s Flood Recovery Fund has raised about $60,000, but the library’s losses — including the massive damage to the building’s heating, cooling and electrical systems — cost nearly a hundred times that. Buthod and Hunt say they are still waiting to find out how much insurance will cover.

Hunt says that the enthusiasm she’s seen from so many people is something she hopes the library can channel into long-term support.

“Our priority now is to be sure the library gets back to the condition it was before the flood and preferably even better,” she says. “Of course, we want to keep the people who have made gifts for the Flood Recovery Fund — we’d like to keep them as donors for the future. You know, we hope that they will continue to appreciate the library not just because we need help right now because of the flood. But the library always needs help.”

And many fundraising experts agrees. One is Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint Research and Design, an advisory firm that publishes a blog on the business of giving.

“The thing will be to keep up the attention,” she says, “because the library, no doubt, has both immediate needs and ongoing needs, and really take advantage of this opportunity to keep a very public conversation about the public library as a resource.”

In the two fiscal years, the library foundation has raised about $1 million annually. But for now, it’s not clear if the current outpouring will translate into more needed dollars.

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