Magazine article American Libraries

Recovery in Washington

Magazine article American Libraries

Recovery in Washington

Article excerpt

Kathy Earnest, director of the Pentagon Library in Washington, told American Libraries that both the library and new quarters being prepared for it were water-damaged in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. The library was considered part of a crime scene and no one was allowed back in until the area was reopened September 21. She said preservationists had been contacted immediately and given security clearance to begin assessing the damage to the 200,000-volume collection.

Earnest said that when the crash occurred the staff was watching the president on television and helping customers. "There was a loud noise, and then the building shook. Somebody ran in and shouted, 'Stay away from the windows! Everybody get out!'" What followed was "chaos, but organized chaos. It was one of those experiences that you will remember for a lifetime," she said. No library staffers were among the casualties in the Pentagon attack.

When the attack occurred, numerous Washington-area offices and stores closed, forcing workers to return home not long after the morning rush hour ended. Many northern-Virginia commuters found travel complicated when streets and public transit stations near the Pentagon and National Airport were closed because of safety and security concerns. Where did these commuters go? For some, the answer was the public library.

The Arlington County (Va.) Public Library's Aurora Hills branch, located little more than a mile from the Pentagon, remained open until 5 p.m. the day of the attacks. Library staff at this small branch witnessed the arrival of stranded commuters looking for temporary shelter and ways to notify family and friends of their safety.

In the days and weeks since September 11, libraries throughout the capital area have responded to the tragedy by offering specialized services. Public programs, lists of suggested readings for children, and other information resources have been produced as community members seek to make sense of what happened and regain a sense of normalcy.

When students returned to St. Albans School for boys in Washington on the Thursday following the attacks, librarian Edie Ching altered her lesson plans on research skills for 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders. "I had to think of something, and I thought of something fast," she recounted. Classes that came to the school library that day read and discussed three books describing war from the perspective of children: The War Began at Supper: Letters to Miss Loria by Patricia Reilly Giff, Don't You Know There's a War On? by James Stevenson, and War Boy: A Country Childhood by Michael Foreman.

Ching selected these titles for their potential to ease students' uncertainty. "Everyone kept saying our lives would be changed" following the terrorist attacks, she said, "but what does that mean to little kids?" Ching wanted to convey that meaning through stories. "These books show how lives have been disrupted at other times, and people survived. It gave us something to focus on -- to be reassuring instead of escalating hysteria," she said. She explained that a book like Don't You Know There's a War On? "helps define for them how life could change without being overwhelming." The selections worked as intended. "It seemed to be calming," Ching said. The discussion also prompted student interest in similar titles, she observed.

In the week that followed, Ching returned to teaching basic research skills by sharing a relatively simple news article on the Taliban and Afghanistan with classes. She then directed students working in pairs to use library resources to find facts about Afghanistan. The exercise enabled students to practice library skills, as they would on an ordinary school day, while at the same time increasing their understanding of the world situation.

Elsewhere in the District of Columbia, the public library returned to normal operations the day after the attacks. Although a liberal leave policy was in effect, all 27 D. …

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