by Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A
In the face of Tuscaloosa’s recent natural disaster, the EF4 tornado that plowed through town Wednesday, April 27th, distance students in the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) used their understanding of technology to show true leadership skills. Although the twister missed the University, lack of electricity blocked access to campus buildings and internet access was at first impossible and then sketchy for days. First, Autumn Faulkner of Troy, AL, and Brandee Idlemann of California started a Facebook group called Love for SLIS, where information could be exchanged and monies donated. Steve Zary of Hattiesburg, MS and Brittany Turner in New York State started a Google Docs spreadsheet to help locate everyone connected to SLIS. “Distributed organizations can learn from this,” Elizabeth Aversa, Director of UA SLIS, explains: “those with access to technology can help those in trouble.” By the time Aversa was able to access the web at the College of Communications Friday afternoon, half of everyone in the School had already been located. Using the Facebook group posts, she filled in more gaps on the spreadsheet, put out calls to faculty to pull up their class lists and help, and, as the list grew smaller, worries began to fade. Technology assisted down to the final ten percent, and those last few were found by physically going on foot and on motor scooter to knock on doors left standing. The result: a few minor injuries, much property damage, and a huge number of volunteers coming out to help.
Many others provided assistance: too many to count checked in and offered to help. Here’s a small sampling of the abundant generosity within our profession. Many utilized UA Acts of Kindness to send donations. David Fenske, Dean of the iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology, offered to mount the UA SLIS distance learning program, but since the University itself was not damaged, bags for distribution of donated items were needed more than servers. He and Delia Neuman, Director of the School Library Media Program, organized a tote bag drive called “Totes for Tuscaloosa.” The University of Maryland School of Information Studies iSchool, led by Diane Barlow, Associate Dean, and Trudy Hahn, Professor of the Practice, also sent huge cartons of hundreds of bags. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro held a blood drive. The Florida State University College of Communication & Information sent tote bags and supplies. St. Catherine University in Minnesota checked in, sending a card signed by their faculty with encouraging messages. Scott Klingler, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, brought USM SLIS volunteers and assisted with carpentry and tree removal. When Rachel Fleming-May, Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, discovered Alabama would not be able to hold graduation ceremonies as scheduled, she initiated an effort that led to UT tying their graduates’ traditional yellow roses (the hood lining color for library science) with a crimson ribbon (UA’s school color), sending a signed banner of encouraging messages to UA graduates, and each UT graduate donated a pair of much needed work gloves with messages written on them to show solidarity.
And we mustn’t forget the faculty at UA SLIS and how they pulled together: Steve Miller, Professor and Coordinator of the Book Arts Program, discovered his house had taken a direct hit, and SLIS volunteers flocked to help him clean up and retrieve as many belongings as possible. Dr. Steven MacCall, Associate Professor, had houseguests for six weeks, including people, parrots and cats. Anne Edwards, Associate Professor, dug up surviving plants from Steve Miller’s house and is keeping them alive for when they rebuild. So many volunteers, faculty, staff, and students stuck around and dug in their heels to help. The NN/LM SE/A speaks for the region when we say we are proud of the way UA SLIS students took the helm and showed peer leadership when it was most needed, and all those who chip in to help when disaster strikes.