Throughout November and December, the Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF) delivered more than 2,000 books to six schools and three public libraries as part of Project Turn the Page. These schools and public libraries were damaged during the storms of April 27, 2011 and include:
• Ragland Public Library, St. Clair County
• Hackleburg Elementary, Marion County
• Phil Campbell School, Franklin County
• Plainview School, Rainsville, DeKalb County
• Pratt City Public Library, Birmingham
• Alberta, Holt and University Place Elementary Schools, Tuscaloosa
• White Hall Public Library, Lowndes County
Funded by a Chairman’s Emergency Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach, as well as a generous donation from Florence businessman Joel Anderson, Project Turn the Page is designed to assist educational and cultural organizations affected by the devastating April 2011 tornadoes.
Most of the funds are being used for book purchases, although AHF also awarded a small grant from its NEH funds to the Walker Area Community Foundation in conjunction with the Journey Stories exhibition in Jasper. The Community Foundation used the grant to develop an exhibition of historical photographs for the devastated Walker County town of Cordova. Originally scheduled to participate in Journey Stories but unable to do so after the storms, Cordova will display the exhibition in its town hall when it is rebuilt in the near future.
In selecting books for the libraries, AHF followed an approach that it used to assist the Bayou la Batre Library after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In both instances, AHF selected humanities-related texts — mostly history and other nonfiction titles related to Alabama topics — to strengthen the libraries’ holdings.
The University of Alabama Press provided adult-level books on Alabama subjects, while Seacoast Publishing of Birmingham provided 4th grade-level Alabama biographies. Both publishers offered generous discounts. Since Project Turn the Page would be serving elementary schools as well as public libraries, AHF turned to the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) to recommend high-quality children’s and young adult books (Caldecott Medal and Newberry Medal award winners). The schools and libraries were able to select from more than 100 children’s and young-adult titles, mostly fiction such as the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, purchased by AHF at a deep discount from Books-a-Million.
Beginning in October, the schools and libraries were each allowed to select up to $2,000 in books from any of the three lists. When the books began arriving in early November, AHF staff organized and boxed them for delivery. Then the staff and AHF board members, including Board Chairman Jim Noles (who coined the title for the project), personally delivered them.
“NEH’s emergency grant to fund the acquisition and delivery of these library books provided a concrete example of the agency’s relevance in small towns across Alabama where NEH is not exactly a household name,” said Noles.
Plainview School librarian Judy Ayers said the books had an immediate impact at the school. “We are so grateful to the AHF for giving us so many titles which we could not otherwise provide for our students,” she said. “It was especially important to us that we could choose the titles most appropriate for our patrons.”
More than 200 books were delivered to the White Hall Library, which is housed in a trailer next to the town hall in this small Lowndes County community that is home to the Lowndes County Interpretive Center for the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. Ethel Williams, a retired school librarian in Montgomery, staffs the library on a volunteer basis.
“This library has the potential to once again be a vital community center for the adults and children in this area,” said Williams. “It was very gratifying for the whole community to receive these books from the foundation.”
Programs like Project Turn the Page align perfectly with AHF’s mission of enhancing minds and enriching lives, said Executive Director John Rochester.
“The staff and board of the Alabama Humanities Foundation are delighted that we could partner with our community leaders and the National Endowment for the Humanities to help replace and restock the collections destroyed by the tornadoes,” Rochester said. “Having seen renewed hope in the faces of the students, teachers and librarians, we look forward to continuing our support for these storm-affected areas with more books, grants and programs in the coming years.”
In 2012, AHF will continue using both NEH and private funds to support communities and organizations in tornado-damaged areas. This may include additional book purchases, as well as humanities grants or programs for affected communities.