Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Haiti's Library....

Haiti’s National Library After the Earthquake

Françoise Beaulieu-Thybulle, director general of Haiti’s National Library in the heart of Port-au-Prince, witnessed the devastation after the earthquake struck on January 12. Fortunately, the building was spared, but there’s still a lot of damage.
SLJ contacted her by email to find out how she, her staff, and her library fared in the aftermath of the 7.0 quake and how the international library community can help. Created in 1939, the National Library serves about 20 municipal libraries and sees about 400 patrons walk through its doors each day.
Where were you when the earthquake hit?

I was at FOKAL (Fondation Connaissance Et Liberte) Monique Calixte Library attending an exhibit on Catherine Dunham. I had arrived earlier, around 4:40 p.m. The quake occurred at 4:53 p.m. The FOKAL building stood, but across the street, a school filled with kids collapsed. I witnessed the screaming and lifeless bodies and body parts on the ground.
How did you locate your staff?

As communications was impossible, it became difficult to find (all 45 staff members) by phone. It took 24 hours to find out no one had died; some of them lost their houses, two of them were rescued from rubble, and one lost her whole family (two daughters, mother, brother, and sister). She was the last one to leave the library and on her way home in public transport. Fortunately, the library closes at 5 p.m. They had closed at 4:45 p.m. that day because of a blackout.
The collapsed library stacks.

What was the first action you took?

Three days after the earthquake we felt desperate. One million homeless families, the government needed volunteers to help the victims. I mobilized my personnel and joined a group of concerned citizens called BIC (bureau d’Implications Citoyenne), which channel the help from government to a group of victim’s around Petion-Ville. We are carrying help to 6,000 people concentrated in Petion-Ville camped in three public squares.
How has the National Library itself fared?

The library is located in central Port-au-Prince, nearest to the epicentre of the earthquake. The building is still up but the whole city block collapsed. We are lucky to stand. The shelves tipped over but the stacks are fine, and 30 computers of the reading room fell and broke.
What about the children’s collection?

The children collection is secure but the furniture is damaged. It has been recommended to stay out of the buildings because of aftershocks. The whole port-au-Prince area is without electricity since the day of the earthquake. The only reason I have Internet communication at home is because of solar energy.
The collapsed building to the left of the library.How did you find yourself running the National Library?

I acquired a degree in librarianship at Columbia University in 1980 and moved back to Haiti that same year. I worked a year at the Foreign Affairs Ministry library and was offered the position of director in October 1981. Ironically it was a building devastated by three successive Hurricanes 1977-1978(David) and 1979 (Allen). We had to start from scratch, and we became a member of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL.) I have been director ever since.
How can those in the international library community best help Haiti’s libraries recover?

Three of our municipal libraries collapsed (Petit-Goave, Leogane, Cavaillon). These also will need help such as shelving, furniture, library materials, and a lot of moral support from the library community. It is through that ordeal that I realize how the federations and associations of libraries and librarians are family. Their moral support and their offer to help in the future in any way they can, means a lot to all of us.

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