One could imagine that life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast would differ from Brigantine island living.

But what the two have in common is a community well acquainted with hurricane devastation, and with the importance of a local library in the community's recovery.

Sandra Alawine, president of the Friends of the St. Martin Public Library - a fundraising arm for the Biloxi, Miss., branch - noticed these similarities and felt the need to show support. With lingering memories of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that hammered her region in 2005, it only felt right.

"Since we are a small community library from a community that few people outside our area has heard of, we were looking for a similar library to donate to," Alawine said.

Last month, Elizabeth Bliss, manager of the Brigantine branch of the Atlantic County Library System, opened what she called an "out of the blue, serendipitous gift from Biloxi" in the form a $500 donation.

"It was really heartwarming," Bliss said. "I feel like we have friends for life in this sister library, I really do."

Fortunately, the Brigantine library did not lose its collection, but did have damaging floods in its basement, Bliss said. The required remediation forced the Atlantic County Library Foundation to temporarily end its book sale, which took place in the basement and generated almost all of the funding for the Brigantine branch's programs.

For months, the library, with the help of the Biloxi donation and a $1,000 Hurricane Recovery Grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, has resumed limited programming, operating from an "outpost" in the Brigantine Beach Community Center.

On March 20, the outpost was functioning, simply on a smaller scale.

Regulars filled the limited seating to read the newspaper or flip pages of a magazine or book. Residents made use of the three public access laptops. And patrons checked out DVDs at the makeshift circulation desk - a pool table covered by a custom-built top supplied by the county.

"Delivering essential library services is the first priority," Bliss said, adding that it has been a challenge to keep their selection of reads fresh, only able to offer 1,800 items at a time, in comparison with their original location's 48,000-piece collection.

Bliss said her staff has worked attentively to keep the shelves stocked with new titles. They also built a coping display for hurricane victims, including topics on meditation, helping children cope and anxiety release.

Although Bliss could not speculate on when the branch will return to its 15th Street South location, she remains optimistic.

"We are taking it one week at a time at this point," she said. "Our patrons have been so good natured."

While she admits that most library members yearn to be back at the original address, some recent patrons have been frequenting the outpost more due to its centralized location at the center.

Sal Thomasino, 82, and his wife, Frances, 81, said that before Hurricane Sandy, they would visit the library about once a month. On a recent Wednesday morning, the couple said that they visit the outpost as many as three times a week to browse and read the paper.

"We come to the community center more and the library happens to be here," said Sal, who is a caller for senior bingo two days a week at the center.

Brigantine resident Dawn Jones would visit the library, no matter its location. Daily visits have become her ritual, and she is a fan of its craft programs, including bracelet, soap and candy making.

Although she seemed eager for the branch to be back in its permanent home, she appreciated the work of its staff to ensure a good library experience. And a donation from a Mississippi library, she said, felt good as well.

"I think it's really nice that they want to help us get our library back up and going," she said.

To contact Atlantic County Library System/Brigantine, call 609-266-0110 or visit the Library Outpost at 265 42nd St. in Brigantine.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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