When Director Debbie Engelhardt finally regained power at Comsewogue Library on Thursday, she was so happy she thought they’d share her good fortune, with everybody.
So the library sent the word out: come one, come all, recharge, check emails, call your relatives and surf the web. The public library became a community center in a much different way, and the people showed up with their laptops, cell phones, smart phones and tablets to reconnect with the world, something many of them haven’t done in days since before Sandy hit.
“We set up charging stations,” said Sue Guerin, head of the adult reference department at the library. “People are coming in with laptops to use WiFi, iPads and cellphones.”
The pent up demand to connect was so great that by lunchtime the parking lot was filled to the brim with cars, according to Guerin. They had to add more charging stations, setting up extra tables and chairs with power strips to accommodate the influx of people.
Anyone can come to the library to use their WiFi and charging stations, according to Guerin. They even have some computers with Internet access for non-members of the library.
“You don’t need a Comsewogue Library card,” she said.
Residents without power showed up, some calling family members and checking out the news for the first time.
“Some people haven’t seen the news or seen the destruction,” said Guerin. “They were shocked.”
Leslie Mateluna came out from Brooklyn with her son Eugene to stay with her mother in Port Jefferson Station because she had no power at home. The trip out to Long Island was much more harrowing than the usual drives she takes out every summer.
“There was not a single gas station between Brooklyn and Port Jefferson,” she said. “We went a long way in the dark. We had just enough gas to get to my mom’s house.”
While her mother has electricity there is no phone service or Internet access. Mateluna – who works in the corporate office of Century 21 Department Stores located in the hard-hit World Trade Center area of lower Manhattan– wanted to contact her job because she’s stranded here with no way to get back. (Trains weren't running and she's out of gas.)
At the library, she has Internet access and has been communicating with her boss who told her just to stay out on Long Island until things improve. Her son was happily playing on his iPod, plugged in to one of the many charging stations around the library.
The library also converted its Children’s Workshop room into a Communications Room so people could have conversations on cell phones and on Skype without disturbing others.
“We wanted to respect the library atmosphere but still help people,” Guerin said.
Some people, according to Guerin, just came to take the chill off.
“We see people coming in and saying ‘I can get warm here,’” she said.