November 7, 2012

Library Becomes “Community’s Living Room,” Offers Haven for Thousands After Storm

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The Princeton Public Library more than lived up to its role as the “Community’s Living Room” for power-starved residents during Sandy’s aftermath. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

As if we didn’t know it already, Princeton Public Library proved, once again, that it is truly this community’s “living room” by serving as a haven for many during Hurricane Sandy.

“We had more than 29,360 customers last week, including the day before the storm, October 28,” reported Communications Director Tim Quinn. “That averages to about 4,200 per day.”

The library conceded to the storm by closing on Monday, October 29, but reopened around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30, remaining open until 9 p.m. Some 4,788 visitors came to the library in a nine-hour period that day.

Instead of waiting until the usual 9 a.m. opening on Thursday, November 1, the library provided a warming station by opening doors to the front of the library, lobby, and community room at 7 a.m. That day saw the largest attendance of the period, with 8,028 visitors in the 14 hours between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. On Friday, November 2, 6,539 people came to the library during roughly the same period.

Mr. Quinn reported that the three-day total number of visitors to the library during the peak of the power outage was 19,355. “By comparison, our average daily door count is 2,500,” he added. Circulation of library materials during this time doubled, and “all computers were in use pretty much every hour we were open,” said Mr. Quinn. “Our Wi-Fi was operating at the maximum capacity throughout,” and intense Wi-FI use prompted frequent announcements asking visitors to turn off the Wi-Fi on 3G and 4G devices, so others could get on the internet. Other announcements kept people up-to-date on school closings, and encouraged them to attend screenings of family-friendly movies like Penguins of Madagascar in the Community Room.

When available seats ran out, library visitors took to sitting side-by-side on the floor. In addition to the usual library activities, there were card games, and impromptu meetings. At least one couple came to see what the latest issue of Consumer Reports had to say about a badly-needed appliance.

Another bright spot for area residents during the storm was McCaffrey’s Market at the Princeton Shopping Center, where a generator kept food fresh and operations humming. People stood patiently in a long line for coffee, often bringing it to the upstairs seating area where they could drink it, eat Halloween-themed pastries, and recharge electrical appliances.

Internet service at McCaffrey’s was spotty, but the lights, warmth, good smells, and happiness at seeing familiar faces more than made up for it. It didn’t feel at all surprising, at one point, to hear the theme from Cheers emanating from McCaffrey’s large screen TV.

Another bright spot was Princeton United Methodist Church (PUMC), where Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash and Music Director Hyosang Park plugged in the coffee pot and posted a sign on the lawn reading, “Come in! Get warm! Charge up and use our Wi-Fi!” On Wednesday two dozen passersby sought brief refuge from the cold, plus nearly 100 people who spent the day, charging their phones and logging onto PUMC’s Wi-Fi. On Wednesdays, PUMC usually serves free meals to all, in partnership with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and this last week was no exception. At 4 p.m. the Cornerstone Community Kitchen team converted the space into a dining room, where 73 people enjoyed salad, roast pork and mashed potatoes.

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