Working on a Book Bus in Rockaway Beach after Storm Sandy

My commute to work is usually 45-minutes on a good day and sometimes a little more time because of traffic. At first going back to work in the Rockaways after Storm Sandy was an adjustment to say the least to go from completely normal life in not so far Rego Park to seeing the devastation from the storm in Rockaway Beach. Quickly I realized that my colleagues and I in the library system were making a difference in being down there by Friday November 2nd, about 4 days after the storm, and being a regular presence since then. From my time down there I’m amazed at the resilience of the people that live there. Also it’s incredible to see the collaboration to help from other city agencies, organizations, and volunteers.

I asked advice from several of my professional colleagues on how to go about writing about my experience at work since we returned to the Peninsula Library to give service on the book bus.  My goal on writing about this is to be informative, productive, positive, and honest. I got good pointers from several colleagues. One is that I’m not going to try name co-workers and customers. For customers it is a privacy issue. For my co-workers there are so many people at my system working so hard I don’t think I could name them all.  Far Rockaway opened up without power as a food distribution center, and functioned as a library as well when a generator was donated.  Today, November 19 a trailer at Arverne opened up. Howard Beach opened up last week, and service to both the Seaside and Broad Channel area is being planned out for the near future. The custodial stuff cleaned three inches of caked dirt at the Peninsula library along with lots of other clean ups. The BTOP (workers concentrating on career and technology services training to customers) helped the service on the book bus immensely by foreseeing the needs for FEMA and other information. This really is a Queens Library effort as a team, so I will name departments and not individual people.

Another thing I decided is that I don’t have to write this all out in one entry. Maybe once a week, I’ll cover a different aspect of the work we are doing on the book bus. I’ll continue to write about my other interests, but on Monday nights (hopefully) I’ll write an update on our work down there. On this first entry about this I’ll keep it brief and start by saying I’ve never felt so helpful in my life.

On the second day we were referring a lot of people to the FEMA center at the Waldbaums about 20 blocks away.  One of the work drivers was there with a van, and I asked him if we could take a ride down there to see what we were referring people too. We drove and the road then from 94th street to 116th was in really bad condition. We saw a pickup truck at a weird angle and realized water washed it from the original spot and practically smashed it into a house. Debris was everywhere and few houses looked burned down as well. Even as early as that Saturday, November 3rd, there were clean up crews, so there were piles from houses and so forth. Anyway we got to the FEMA center, and I was glad to see it looked like a real emergency setup. I talked to a FEMA worker, got the hours, and what type of services they provided. After that going back to the book bus I could really recommend to people that even though the center is twenty blocks away it’s worth the trip there.

A lot of the needs that came up we learned about it, and then we would try to find a resource to refer people to. Keep in mind power was just restored in areas late last week. From today I heard a lot of the apartment buildings got power back, but a lot of the individual houses still do not.  So with a large area with out power information really was block to block. One day in the second week we had several staff there.  Across from the library there is a huge parking lot for the summer beach crowds. Since Storm Sandy hit that parking lot has turned into the resource center. Verizon and ATT had their trucks there. FEMA had a presence there. Also food trucks gave food for free to anyone there. A church took and sorted donations. Other organizations, especially on the weekends set up shop there. That is right by the library so I knew what was at that parking lot. One day we had more staff, and I decided to check out a strip mall only two blocks east that I knew had a large parking lot. A coworker and I walked there, and it was nearly empty. Way at the far end of the lot was a semi truck that was giving out provisions. That is great, and they had a solid line of takers for clothes and other necessities.  But with the exception of those givers nothing was in that large parking lot. I guessed then that information really was block to block. So people that passed our library bus were confused and needed to be directed for their needs, and that is the best thing we did in those first few weeks.  During Election Day I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we told around 100 people or more where to vote. It almost seemed that everyone that passed us that day asked where to vote because the library was the original voting place for a lot of people.

We also let people charge their phones. My awesome colleague brought in her coffee maker, and coffee to make. With bottle water we’ve been making coffee. People have appreciated simply getting hot coffee, and talking while their phones charged. One morning I think we went through a third pot of coffee. Lastly I’ve never been thanked so much in my life, after all the Rockaway residents have been through, they appreciate library services. We were able to give away withdrawn books, and that was really good to see people excited about getting books. And now people are taking the time to make sure their library accounts are in good standing, which is amazing to me.

This entry is a little long. Next week I’ll talk about how people can get involved through the Queens Library foundation, and a children’s book donation drive that the amazing Urban Librarians Unite has in the works.

*One exception to not naming my colleagues. Kacper Jarecki is the manager of Seaside and has been a joy to work with, him and I are in the picture. Photo taken by Manny Figueroa on Saturday November 3rd I believe.

1 thought on “Working on a Book Bus in Rockaway Beach after Storm Sandy

  1. Great job, Matt! You guys are awesome!

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