The makers of Free for All: Inside the Public Library state, “We are building community interest through social media dissemination of short pieces filmed during our research. On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we posted our 4-minute short, Libraries to the Rescue,” which one can view on YouTube. It concerns the Far Rockaway Branch and Peninsula Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. “In a few short weeks it was seen and passed along by thousands of Facebook viewers.”
Nearly two years ago, I wrote in “How Much Have New York Libraries Recovered from Hurricane Sandy?” I wrote, “The super-storm struck Queens hard. The Queens Borough Public Library reported four branches were “all-but destroyed.” Approximately 100,000 books and DVDs were destroyed in four of the five branches in the Rockaways, including 40,000 books at the Peninsula Branch.”
In “Despite Ruin, Library Offers Books and Community,” Vivian Yee described the damage at the Peninsula Branch in The New York Times. “Nearly four feet of water had smashed through the Peninsula branch’s glass front, tearing thousands of books from the shelves and spewing them onto the sidewalk. Outside, sand, debris, glass and pieces of boardwalk covered the road, and the National Guard patrolled the streets. Recovery centers had not yet opened. So the library, a natural community center, stepped unto the breach.”
The short film includes Far Rockaway Branch Manager Sharon Anderson saying, “When something like this happens, I don’t care where it is, people have a tendency, I believe, to lose hope, especially when nobody’s answering questions, especially when there’s nowhere to go to get answers, so nobody knew where to go, what to do, what services were available. You have people where no water, no heat.”
Describing conditions in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, patron Peninsula Branch Monica Kimbrough relates, “There was no power in our apartments, there is no heat, and there is, of course, well, no water.”
Thomas W. Galante, then President and C.E.O. of the Queens Library, says, “It was chaos down there at that point, with people looking for information, and just trying, trying to find loved ones, trying to have prescriptions filled. That Saturday, right after the storm, our Far Rockaway Library opened up without power, without heat, without lights, without anything. With our manager, who was down there, with her staff.”
Far Rockaway Branch patron Sonya Jack says, “We love Ms. Anderson, the manager for this library. We love Ms. Anderson. They was given out food. They gave out clothes. They had a generator and everybody got to power their phones to call their families.”
Ms. Anderson explains where the materials came from. “Every five minutes, we were getting calls from different synagogues, different churches, asking what they could donate, so helpful. It gave them some hope.”
Lawrence Vedilago, Risk Management Director of the Queens Library, reports, “This building is totaled. There’s about 60,000 items in there that circulate, and, uh, tables, chairs, desks. There’s an adult learning center in here where we do GED programs. All those materials, records are ruined. Millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and furniture. And, uh, three of the buildings had just recently been renovated, brand new interiors. We sent the, uh, book bus down here so we could quickly get some kind of service for the folks that live down here.”
Ms. Kimbrough explains, “Well I saw the bus, and so I was curious, and I came in, and I got information on how to apply for FEMA. And I also wanted to get on the computer, because my power’s out.”
Crystal Casillas, a Peninsula Branch patron, says, “It’s nice to have some place warm to charge things, and get on the Internet. It’s nice to feel like there’s a civilization outside everything that happened… It kind of makes you felt like even though a lot of things got destroyed, this is still here, like the neighborhood can go back to normal. Even though it’s just a bus, it’s like the library has always been here, like this was the one area everyone came to so to see the mobile library here is like it kind of like it brings the neighborhood together.”
Ms. Galante says, “There were a lot of people who wanted to help. They didn’t know the community, and we are in every one of these communities, so we became that glue that kind of connected a lot of the resources.”
Serendipity Films made Libraries to the Rescue. Dawn Logsdon and Lucie Fauknor produced it. Mary Olive Smith was the cinematographer. Ms. Logsdon edited it. Jami Sieber composed the music.
The filmmakers need $75,000 to cover production costs of Free for All: Inside the Public Library and have turned to crowdfunding (public conscription via the Internet) through the platform Kickstarter. They are in the final week of the Kickstarter campaign as the deadline is Sunday, Oct 26, 2014 at midnight.
The filmmakers state, on the Kickstarter campaign Web page, “Kickstarter is all or nothing. We must reach our goal of $75,000 in 39 days in order to receive any of the pledges at all, which means your credit card will not be charged for the amount you specify unless we get all $75,000 or more in funding by midnight on October 26, 2014.” As of 5:40 p.m. on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, the Kickstarter campaign had reached $59,383 with 624 backers.