When 27 inches of river-mud slurry receded from the first floor of the Schoharie Free Library after Tropical Storm Irene, a sizeable collection of children’s books was left in shambles.
The library reopened in June, but the kids’ collection is still on its way back to pre-flood standards. Help could be coming from an unexpected source: LEGO.
The popular toy company recently joined with the American Library Association to launch “Read! Build! Play!” — a nationwide competition awarding $5,000 to the library with the most online nominations.
It’s simple to nominate online, and in the past few days, the Schoharie library broke into the top 10 list. As of Tuesday evening, it sat at No. 6, with nominations crawling past 7,000.
Library Director Kathy Caiazzo can still remember vividly the smell of moldy books when she was finally able to return to the library, four days after evacuating.
“We lost everything on the bottom two shelves,” she said. “Adult non-fiction was the only thing that wasn’t touched. It’s on the second floor.”
All told, 5,000 items were lost, including about one-third of all children’s books, many of which were on lower shelves for young hands. With picture books averaging about $20, the library could use the help from LEGO.
While Schoharie is sixth out of hundreds of nominated libraries, the front-runner’s tally is dramatically higher. Mount Airy Public Library in North Carolina has 24,000 nominations. Over half the population of Schoharie County would have to log on and nominate to pass that figure by Oct. 1, when voting closes. While Caiazzo doesn’t count on that happening, some library members are more hopeful.
“It’s going to take a lot to catch up with the other libraries,” said Sarah Cipperly, “but we’ve been climbing steadily.”
Cipperly is leading the Facebook end of the nomination drive, which is responsible for the majority of votes.
“I’ve been voting every day,” said Sue Bramer, “I didn’t even know about this until I saw it on Facebook.”
No doubt the other leading libraries are using social media as well, but Bramer said Schoharie residents are practiced at the art of spreading the word. In March, the Schoharie Central School District won $100,000 through Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition, generating more than 100,000 online votes for a student-made video depicting the local impact of Irene.
They beat out a much larger school in California through superior use of Facebook, Bramer said.
“I had friends in England, Chicago and New Mexico who were voting every day,” she said. “The more times we share this, the more it will grow.”
The funding at stake is just 5 percent of the Samsung grant, but LEGO spokeswoman Leah Barash said the money is only half the project.
“For a long time, libraries have used LEGOs not only to entertain children, but to teach them,” she said. “We want to raise awareness of libraries and that play and learning go together.”
To nominate and check the library’s progress, visit http://readbuildplay.com.