So two and a half months after an unpredictable tornado nearly destroyed Joplin schools, five Marshall librarians heeded the call of Joplin's Library Media Specialist Bonnie Turner without hesitation. MHS Librarian Rebecca Cramer, Early Elementary Librarian Debbie Hollrah, Eastwood and Northwest Librarian Betsy Lewis, BMS Librarian Katie Berger and retired BMS Librarian Beth Chase agreed within an hour of the initial email that they'd make it work.
They weren't alone. Marshall School District approved the one-day trip they took Friday, Aug. 5, which was scheduled as a contracted workday in Marshall Schools.
The women's goal was to assist Turner with organizing the busloads of books that had been donated. More than 70,000 manuscripts were given to the district after the EF-5 tornado decimated much of the property. The Missouri Association of School Librarians put out a call to all districts, which then recruited volunteers and were assigned a day to work.
"As soon as we all saw it collectively, we said 'okay. We can do that. We know how to do that,'" Cramer said of the request.
The librarians processed and sorted through mountains of books that reached halfway up the school's paneled walls. Looking back, they realized how lucky they are.
They questioned the process of picking up the pieces should the disaster had happened in Marshall -- how and where to hold classes if the schools were suddenly taken away.
"Librarians there are so resilient," Chase stated. "They lost some of their students."
The women sat around a research table in the Marshall High School library, sharing photos they captured in Joplin. Some reflected images of wind-torn buildings, while others showed volunteers weeding through donated literature. Chase described a surveillance video of the storm approaching the school -- a clock showing "5:20" before electricity burns out and trees whipped by violent winds.
"I don't know how many librarians they have in their Joplin district, but ... (Turner) had to salvage what she could out of her library," Lewis added. "(She then had to) box all that up plus ... think about how to distribute and organize this whole donated room-full of books ... and organize that effort."
The five Marshall librarians were impressed with the positivity and encouragement exuded by the Joplin district, saying Turner was "all smiles."
Throughout the day, library quality books were separated from the rest, then divided by grade levels. Missouri school librarians touched each of the 70,000 books in approximately five days.
Joplin schools also decided to hold an open house for students, who were allowed to choose five or six books for their personal library.
" ... Just for those kids to be able to own something that's there's again," Berger said. "Some of them are still living in the FEMA trailers."
Students were excited to get the books, according to Hollrah, who said it was as though they were receiving Christmas presents.
In a section of Joplin where the city "just stops" because one sees driveways and no houses and roads with street names spray painted on the blacktop, pieces of normalcy seem to be coming back together.
The Missouri Association of School Librarians has set up links to fundraising sites for Joplin schools. Several organizations allow librarians discretion over what they purchase. Visit wwwlmaslonline.org for more information.
Contact Sarah Reed at