COLUMN: Librarians support wildfire evacuees

Anne DeGrace on storytime in the Prince George and Kamloops evacuation centres

By Anne DeGrace

“The most interesting thing is the individual stories,” Prince George Chief Librarian Janet Marren told me. She said after spending a day at an evacuation centre in her city, “I’d go home and find myself worried about all these people. Once you’ve filled out all the forms with them, once you’ve heard their stories, you feel like you know them.”

Prince George Public Library has been hands-on since the beginning of the wildfire season, which has seen 9,000 evacuees take refuge in the city. The library has seen a huge increase in foot traffic as people come to access computers, find information, bring their kids to free programming, and just get away from the heat and the smoke. To regular programming, such as the free, drop-in Summer Reading Club, they’ve added family events such as pizza-and-a-movie night.

But the library isn’t satisfied just waiting for fire-displaced people to come to them. They’ve taken storytimes to the evacuation centres, made sure their “reading without rules” trolleys — books that don’t have to be returned — are everywhere, and issued temporary cards with full privileges to evacuees so that there’s one less barrier for people facing a wall of smoke and an uncertain future.

What put Janet and many of her staff on the front lines was Prince George Library’s how-can-we-help approach, writ large. Full-time staff were brought in, with pay, to register the first wave of evacuees, many carrying on with the work on their own time, because the lines didn’t end at clock-out time.

Librarians are good at helping folks navigate information, solve problems, fill out forms. We do it every day. And so when the emergency began, Prince George librarians were there to get the ball rolling while community volunteers got trained up.

Back at the library they’re there to greet the exhausted senior, the family with small kids. “Everyone is just so sympathetic,” Janet said.

I asked Kamloops Chief Librarian Judy Moore how things were going there. They, too, have seen a sharp increase in foot traffic — Ashcroft and Cache Creek are part of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Library System — yet everyone takes the extra busy-ness in stride. For compassionate librarians, it can be hard to witness the stress and worry people are struggling with, but “staff have said they feel like they are really able to make a contribution to the relief effort by giving support through the library,” she said.

In Kamloops, too, a number of staff members were deployed to help out in the evacuation centres, and the library has brought the bookmobile around with a roving collection for checkout and plenty of free materials, too. They’ve encouraged folks to come to the library for a cool break and family activities, and they’ve tried to ensure anyone who wants a library card can get one. “We are thinking of expanding our offerings in the evenings we are open by putting out board games, for at least as long as the evacuation orders are in effect,” Judy said.

For a family camped out in a RV or on a cluster of cots in a shelter, a game of Monopoly must be a normalizing thing, a temporary relief at least. It doesn’t remove worries about threatened homes and scattered family members and relocated pets, or the endless waiting. But a place to rest, recharge, and connect in a friendly, helpful atmosphere has got to help.

Libraries are places of refuge in so many ways: we are egalitarian, compassionate, and helpful navigators of information, services, and of a society that barrels along at sometimes breathtaking speeds. I hope that, once the smoke clears and the recovery begins, these librarians will know they’ve made a small difference in a desperate time just by saying “how can I help?”—and really meaning it.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haitian foster children arrive in Nelson after months-long lobbying effort

Marie-Paule Brisson and Sebastien De Marre have parented girls age 12 and 8 since they were babies

Nelson hospice starts Walk and Talk group in Lakeside Park

The Walk and Talk Grief Group is offered free to anyone grieving the death of a loved one

From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

Tanker 489 is stationed in Castlegar this year, but in the 1960s it belonged to the L.A. Dodgers.

RDCK to implement new emergency alert notification system

System also includes sends alerts for water advisories

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Most Read