Joseph Carrier decided to organize a book drive after seeing the remains of the Biloxi Public Library on the television news.
“The structure was still standing, but the books and everything else were underwater,” he said. “So I said, ‘what can I do?’”
The criminal justice professor at Columbia College made two trips to the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday to collect leftover books from an annual book sale. By the end of the day, he had gathered close to 3,000 books for Books for Biloxi, a drive to replenish the library and two public schools in Biloxi, Miss.
After unsuccessful attempts to contact Biloxi’s library, made inoperable by Hurricane Katrina’s extensive water damage, he called Biloxi Public Schools. He learned that two elementary schools, Gorenflo Elementary and Nichols Elementary, had been destroyed by flooding reaching six to eight feet. His purpose then grew from re-supplying the library to also gathering books for the two schools.
The Biloxi school system is scheduled to re-open Sept. 26, but Gorenflo and Nichols will remain closed for further renovation. The two schools are in the most severely affected part of the city, according to Nancy Hunter, a professional development trainer for the Biloxi school district who is now directing disaster relief. The 700 students will be temporarily relocated and will be in need of all new materials, including library books and textbooks.
“It’s wonderful to have this kind of outpouring,” Hunter said. “We’ve literally heard from people all over the country. We have had some other people sending books, but I don’t know of anything to this scale. It gives us hope.”
Carrier plans to place drop-off boxes in Columbia College’s Atkins-Holman Student Commons at Rogers and Rangeline Streets, three Jimmy John’s locations and other businesses.
He said he thinks he will have plenty of books for adults and is focusing on children’s books to send to the schools.
“We’re a lot farther along in terms of books than I expected to be by now,” he said. “My goal is to get as many books as they had to start with.”
He hopes to find a commercial vendor or trucking company to deliver the books to Biloxi. Otherwise, he will borrow a trailer or a truck and make the 12-hour drive himself.
Carrier lived in Biloxi in the early 1980s while working as a criminal investigator at Keesler Air Force Base. The base was partly destroyed by the hurricane, and children who live on the base attend schools in Biloxi. He was unfazed by the possibility that he might witness some of the recent damage himself.
“I’ve seen destruction, I’ve seen devastation,” he said. “I’ve seen enough video footage to know it’s in really bad shape. I assume little on the beach will be recognizable.”
Carrier recruited Columbia College’s criminal justice student association as well as other student groups to help him with his project. One student, Michael Talbott, 21, said he thinks arrival of the books will help take students’ minds off the damage done to their city.
“I’d prefer to go down there and physically help, but quite frankly I can’t because I’m in college, and I don’t have the money,” he said. “But this is something where I can do my little part.”