Rainelle Public Library in Rainelle, West Virginia, received an early Christmas gift this year. On Dec. 5, Shenandoah University delivered more than 1,600 books – 43 boxes worth – to the the library, which lost more than 12,000 books in the floods which ravaged Greenbrier County in June. Most of the children’s picture books that were lost were brand new and had been on the shelf for just two weeks.
The book donation, spearheaded by Director of the Children’s Literature Program and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D., included books donated by the Shenandoah University community, as well as more than 400 books from authors and illustrators who have attended the university’s annual Children’s Literature Conference over the years. Many of the children’s books included beautiful inscriptions to the children of Rainelle.
“With the delivery of these books, Shenandoah University is making a significant difference to the lives of so many children and families in Rainelle,” said Dr. Huff. “In a town with a population of 1,500 people, not only was the entire collection of the public library destroyed by the flood, but approximately 300 homes were also destroyed or severely damaged. This gift from Shenandoah University will be greatly appreciated and remembered for years to come.”
Immediately after the flood, Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., emailed Huff to express her concern for Huff’s family, as Huff hails from Greenbrier County and her father and many other family members still live in the area. Fitzsimmons also wanted to know if there was any way Shenandoah could help.
“Just the day before, I had seen a picture of the Rainelle Public Library with its entire collection of books heaped in a wet, muddy pile in front of the library,” said Huff. “When Tracy asked how Shenandoah could help, I thought immediately of the library.”
Huff told the president she wanted to contact the authors and illustrators who had been guest speakers at the Children’s Literature Conference over the years and ask if they would donate a signed book to the library.
“Tracy suggested that we ask the entire university to help rebuild the collection, because she believes libraries and books are essential to the education process and because West Virginia is our closest neighbor and this is what neighbors do,” said Huff.
In just five months, the university community and the Children’s Literature Conference authors and illustrators amassed the collection delivered to the library on Dec. 5. Rainelle Public Library representatives, as well as the mayor of Rainelle, West Virginia, were on-hand to accept the donation.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means for us,” said Rainelle Public Library Director Debra Goddard. “Having new books encourages patrons to check out books, but it also feels wonderful to know that someone cares. After a disaster you’re so busy with recovering that you feel isolated from the rest of the world. Having the authors donate and sign the books is going to make our young patrons feel special.”
Andrea “Andy” Pendleton, the mayor of Rainelle, West Virginia, recalled receiving an email from Huff shortly after the flood, notifying her of the university’s book collection efforts.
“This was a ray of sunshine for our town as we stood on the rubble of what the flood left behind,” said Pendleton. “We are overwhelmed at the generosity of so many, and it is a blessing for our town, for the library, and especially the children. I know the children will be back reading in full force, better than before, especially with the books that they now have to look forward to – they will be astonished with so many choices and selections to read. The beautiful books are full of color, filled with words of laughter, knowledge, and especially love.”
Huff says she is amazed and humbled by the response from the staff, faculty and students at the university, as well the many authors and illustrators who have attended the Children’s Literature Conference over the years.
“I know our gift will help in rebuilding the library’s collection, and it is my hope that the many signed books with messages to the children will become a very special part of the children’s collection,” said Huff. “Even though the terrible memories of June 23 will stay with the children forever, I hope that another childhood memory will be of the library and the books that were sent especially for them from some of the most outstanding authors and illustrators in the country. I want the children to know that their town, their library, and what they read mattered to so many.”