By Rosemary Gohd, SBPL Assistant Librarian
Libraries really do have the power to change lives!
No one knows that better than the hundreds of South Brunswick residents who were without power after Hurricane Sandy came through town on Oct. 29.
In addition to extended operating hours, the South Brunswick Public Library did what it usually does by offering a warm place for residents to gather, commune, use free WiFi, and of course access computers, books, movies, and the like.
For four days until the doors closed each night, South Brunswick’s power refugees camped out in every available open space in the library - on floors, tables and chairs – especially those spaces by an outlet.
“The Library has been a godsend,” said Dayton resident Bill Sullivan. “It’s kept us warm and occupied while we’ve been without power. The staff has been very thoughtful and helpful. Thank you.”
More than 1,700 people visited the Library when it reopened after the storm on Nov. 1 – many waiting in a line that wrapped the building for its doors to open. The building had been closed for three days following the storm, along with other municipal buildings.
More than double the average number of visitors poured into the Library on that following Thursday and Friday. As power began to be restored the number of visitors came down to just double the head count on a typical weekend.
Some patrons laughed about their predicament, saying they usually just come by the Library to pick up a book or movie, not to spend the day!
“I usually bring my book home,” said Dayton resident Laurie Sullivan of spending about 6 hours at the Library.
Library staff was out in full force to assist those needing help, especially with computer time. A color-coded paper pass system was created to give as many as possible time on its’ 36 computer stations.
Young and old filled every available chair and some even stretched out on floors and under tables, spending hours on end in the building warm with heat and togetherness. Despite tales of going to bed in winter coats and such, there was a strong feeling of compassion all around.
Words of gratitude poured out to staff and on the Library’s Facebook page throughout the week’s ordeal.
It was the place to find friends, family, and neighbors, and most importantly distraction and information. People came for the warmth, electricity, entertainment, and up-to-the-minute information about power and road restoration.
“Power’s back on in Whispering Woods!” a woman called out loud Saturday to anyone listening. People just wanted to help each other.
Heather Marquart of Monmouth Junction brought her children to spend time with others in a warm place while she did the same. “It’s good to get out of the house and reconnect with friends.”
“It’s very helpful,” said Monmouth Junction resident Tracy Allen of being at the Library. “If it wasn’t for the Library I would be sitting in the cold.”
Many also came to the Library to set up remote office stations. Flooded buildings in and around Manhattan forced many forget commuting in favor of the “home office.”
Kurinchi Arumugam of Monmouth Junction couldn’t have been happier with the setup. While she worked on her computer all day her parents enjoyed friends and reading materials in the World Language Department while her children watched the continuous movies played in the Children’s Department. “There’s something for everyone to do.”
“I actually have power but I’m still here,” said Kendall Park resident Abdul Rahman, explaining that he was bored working at home and needed a change.
In the two designated Teen rooms, South Brunswick High School seniors studied for the rescheduled (because of the storm) SATs.
“There are too many people at my house,” joked Tina Rullo, saying that her family was helping others who did not have power.
Recent high school graduates Vaishnavi Kannan, Sarah Maher, and Archana Bottu shared a table in the Teen Lounge, happy to be reconnecting with old friends from SBHS.
By far the most popular activity next to reading and being in a warm place with a working computer was charging! Phones and other mobile devices that the 21st generation has come to depend on were plugged into every available outlet throughout the Library.
Everyone counted their blessings for a Library that didn’t quit in the wake of a hurricane.