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To the Bookmobile!
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
Cherrie Carlson-Conklin wants your books.
Twenty thousand pounds of books, to be exact, that she will pack in the old Baker County Library Bookmobile and send 2,200 miles to Louisiana.
"The people in Louisiana could use a library," she said.
Especially those in Cameron Parish, located west of New Orleans near the Texas border on the Gulf of Mexico, where only one of the five libraries withstood the of Hurricane Rita last September.
"The destruction is so it's unbelievable. You can't even imagine," said Charlotte Trosclair, Cameron Parish library director. "It was one of the most peaceful, fun-loving places to live. So tranquil. It's just not like that anymore."
Their library system contained 70,000 to 80,000 books prior to Hurricane Rita, she said.
They might be able to save 3,000.
"Hopefully. Maybe. We don't know if they're going to be salvageable," Trosclair said.
She can't even begin to put a value on everything they lost.
"It's astronomical," she said. "We're waiting to see what the insurance will pay. It's a wait- and-see game. It's very upsetting."
The parish had libraries in these towns: Cameron, Grand Chenier (this library was in a historic building that was about to open when the hurricane hit), Grand Lake, Hackberry and Johnson Bayou.
The Grand Lake library was the only one to weather the storm; everything was lost at the other locations.
"We have one location that's operable and it's small a thousand square feet. We're hoping by May or June to have Hackberry up and running," Trosclair said.
All part-time employees had to be laid off, and the full-time staff are divided between the remaining library and a Bookmobile at Hackberry.
The Baker Bookmobile will be stationed at Johnson Bayou where the library is "a pile of rubble," Trosclair said.
That town had a population of about 1,000 prior to the hurricane, she said.
Carlson-Conklin is managing this project, which is being called "Books to Bayous." She got the idea after seeing a brief news story about a Bookmobile being donated to a town in Louisiana.
"This isn't just sending money, it's something tangible it's books," she said.
The old Bookmobile, a 1968 Gerstenslager, was replaced in 2003 after 35 years of delivering books to the outlying communities in Baker County. It was used as storage space while the branch libraries were renovated, but has been vacant for quite some time.
It won't be empty for long Carlson-Conklin began filling the shelves on Monday after she started sorting through the piles of books that have been donated to the library.
"Paperbacks we have thousands of them. We'll send boxes of those," she said.
Many are duplicates of books already in the library's collection, she said.
She's also looking for donations from the community of new or slightly used books for adults and children, movies, DVDs, audios and video games.
"We want to send things they can use for entertainment. They're probably not ready for a book on how to rebuild your house," Carlson-Conklin said.
Donations can be taken to the library on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., or to the drive-up window at other times. Please specify that the donation is for Books to Bayous.
"I'll put things in until the Bookmobile's full," she said.
Though she said the Bookmobile runs fine on flat ground, the vehicle will be loaded onto a trailer and trucked to Louisiana.
It'll take at least three days to get there, she said, and the estimated cost of the trip including rent for a truck and trailer, gas, motel rooms, food, and permits is $5,000.
In addition to books, monetary donations are also welcome, and any extra funds would be given to the Cameron Parish library district.
All donations are tax deductible.
Carlson-Conklin hopes to have the Bookmobile ready to go by April 15, and she will ride along to help deliver the gift to the folks in Louisiana.
"It's my project I'm going," she said with a smile.
And the recipients are ready to receive this gift from Baker County.
"I think it's awesome. We can at least have a temporary library to help people get some normalcy back in their life," Trosclair said. "We have to be positive it's just a little curve that's been thrown in our path, and we have to keep going."
Photos of the devastation caused by Hurricane Rita are posted on the Cameron Parish library's Web site: www.cameron.lib.la.us.