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LIBRARIES IN ACTION DURING WINTER STORM URI

By Michele Chan Santos

Across Texas beginning on Valentine’s Day weekend, 2021, a massive winter storm plunged the state into chaos: freezing temperatures, icy roads, power outages, water breaks and food shortages. Many people had no power, heat or water in their homes for days, and some communities continue to suffer with no water, weeks after the storm has ended.

Texas librarians and libraries across the state opened their doors and hearts to help those in need. Hundreds of libraries helped by opening as warming shelters and distributing water and food. Here are some examples of how libraries continued to offer support to their communities during the recent winter storm. Thank you to all the librarians in Texas who have helped their residents and patrons during and after the winter storm!

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, the John Peace Library became a warming station for UTSA students, faculty and staff in need of a place to warm up, recharge their phones and laptops or access Wi-Fi service. “With my good fortune, my staff and I designated our main library, JPL, to be a community warming station. Some of my staff and I are sleeping here and will be here until Friday at midnight,” said Dean Hendrix, Dean of Libraries at UTSA.

In Edinburg in the Rio Grande Valley, the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library opened as a 24-hour warming center. Residents had access to the library’s WiFi and computers and were encouraged to charge their electronic devices. City officials asked residents to bring their own bedding, medication, and food. To ensure the safety of all, residents were screened, and temperatures were checked at the door and all social distancing guidelines were strictly enforced and face coverings were required. Police and fire department personnel were always present in case of emergencies. More than 220 residents without electricity turned to the library to warm up and charge their cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices or stayed through the night. To make the space as normal as possible, children were given free books to read and had the opportunity to enjoy movies and complimentary snacks. “Not one staff member questioned if we could or should assist, they just did what they had to do to help those in need,” said Letty Leija, Director of Library and Cultural Arts for the City of Edinburg. “That personal contact with the community reminded us all why we are here…and that’s to serve.”

In Keller, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Keller Public Library served as a warming center.

At the Dallas Public Library, nine locations were open as warming centers during the week of the winter storm. Even as of mid-March, DPL staff continued to distribute bottled water, as well as buckets of water (to use for washing dishes and bathing) to residents in apartment complexes who still did not have water because of broken pipes and damage from the storm. “We have five locations that are doing that in targeted neighborhoods that are still without a lot of water service,” said Jo Giudice, director of the Dallas Public Library. In Garland, northeast of Dallas, staff from the Garland Public Library distributed water to residents with no running water. Watch a video of their water distribution.

In Pottsboro, in far Northeast Texas, staff from Pottsboro Library helped provide free hot meals to residents without power or water. Working with community volunteers, they served 133 meals prepared by Bay at the Lake, a local restaurant. The library also provided cases of bottled water to residents.