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National Library Week - Q&A with ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo

This National Library Week, 10% of sales will go towards the American Library Association’s (ALA) Disaster Relief Fund. The donations will support libraries in Puerto Rico as they rebuild following devastation from Hurricane Maria. We were fortunate to be able to chat with the president of the American Library Association, Loida Garcia-Febo, about her life, libraries, and the current conditions in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Q: Growing up in Puerto Rico, your mother was your school’s librarian. How did that affect/impact/influence you?

I am grateful to those who have influenced my work as a librarian.

My mother, Doña Febo, served as a school librarian and taught me the importance of intellectual freedom and to fight for equality of access to information. I was encouraged to read anything I wanted. Also my father, Don Garcia, raised me to be fearless, daring (atrevida), and inspired my passion for support communities.

It is through their influence and example that I have come to realize vital role libraries play in transforming lives through education and lifelong learning, and that Libraries = Strong Communities.

Q: Has the role of librarian changed since when your mom was working? How so?

Libraries are changing and dynamic places. Libraries serve as a microcosm of society and work to adopt programs and services that meet the needs of the communities that they serve. We’re seeing more technology, community spaces and resources and services that reflect diverse communities.

Q: What was the state of libraries in Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria? Before Hurricane Maria, how many libraries did Puerto Rice have? What were they like? And how many libraries have re-opened?

ALA continues to collaborate with libraries in Puerto Rico to help them with the many needs they have. Due to the wide devastation of libraries and infrastructure, libraries like many other buildings will take time to return to what they were before the Hurricane. REFORMA Chapter in PR and the University of Puerto Rico are monitoring the situation.

Hurricane Maria caused widespread flooding and damage to infrastructure. The island was without power and at one point 14% of the population had no tap water as more than 472,000 homes were badly damaged by the storm.

The American Library Association continues to monitor rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico. I visited Puerto Rico in early March and the status and number of libraries within the region is still unclear. School libraries are closing left and right due to lack of funding; public library service is scarce, but available in some communities; and academic libraries are in the best shape in terms of resources and services available.

Just like other communities across the country, Puerto Rico’s libraries served as the heart of their communities. The landscape has changed forever, but one thing that remains clear is the invaluable role libraries play in their communities.

Libraries of all types are bastions of democracy, access, intellectual freedom, diversity and the public good. They play a critical role in leveling the playing field and helping all members of the community find the resources they need to better their lives through education and lifelong learning.

Students, job seekers, entrepreneurs, people with health conditions, seniors, and those with different linguistic backgrounds and abilities turn to us, rely on us, and need us to help support not only individual aspirations, but also the hopes of their communities.

REFORMA Past- President Tess Tobin (left) and ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo visit a hurricane-damaged library at the University of Puerto Rico.

Q: What is the role of libraries in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Maria? // What has the role of libraries been in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria?

ALA and the library community have a long history of helping those in need. Libraries serve as a lifeline for residents in dire need of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance forms, and access to electrical power, internet, heat and important information about storm relief and recovery efforts.

ALA and the library community supported response and recovery efforts for libraries damaged by Hurricane Maria through the ALA Disaster Relief Fund. ALA accepted donations to support library relief efforts in the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Puerto Rico. ALA also offered a list of resources for dealing with natural disasters at the association’s Libraries Respond website.

As ALA President, I was happy that I was able to call attention to the situation faced by libraries in Puerto Rico by touring libraries in the Island. I’m glad the library community responded and provided some help. As ALA president I was able to call attention to the situation of the libraries there. I’m glad that the library community worldwide responded and provided assistance.

Libraries in Puerto Rico will need support for years to come, but I think the response from the library community has been beautiful. People can help by visiting the ALA International Relations Office website to adopt a library. They can also contact the REFORMA chapter in Puerto Rico to connect directly to libraries that were affected.

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