Karen Ostertag was working the New City Library reference desk Thursday morning, the first day the library was open after Superstorm Sandy when she received a phone call from a crying woman.
The woman’s father, who is on dialysis, was staying at her house, which was still without power after the storm. She called a few places, but nobody could help.
“She didn’t know what to do or who to call at that point,” Ostertag said. “She was out of touch with everything. She didn’t even have a radio that worked without power in the house.”
Ostertag tried to calm the woman down and asked her where she lived while looking up Orange & Rockland’s outage map to see if there was any information about O&R restoring power near her. There wasn’t, and so Ostertag kept poking around the O&R website and eventually found a phone number to call for emergencies and a number that would put the woman on the phone with an actual O&R representative.
The woman called, was put on a priority list and had her power returned overnight Thursday into Friday. On Friday morning, the now-relieved woman called back to thank Ostertag, who was relieved as well to hear the good news.
“I was so thankful when she called me back to say everything worked out,” Ostertag said. “I was worried the rest of the day about that and hoping for the best.”
For many in a post-storm New City, the library provides warmth and outlets. For others, though, it acts as a kind of hub of information. Ostertag said that on Thursday alone, she fielded upwards of a dozen calls for people who wanted her to simply check the O&R outage map.
“For something like Sandy, there’s a lot of great information online, but that’s no good for people without power,” Ostertag said. “People know that we’re open and have power, and when they call, an actual person is going to answer the phone.”
On Monday night, Ostertag was back at the reference desk when a man new to the area called to ask her about his polling location for Tuesday’s election. Ostertag walked him through where to go the following day, and the man jokingly said all he would need after that was to find enough gas to get there. Ostertag kept him on the phone while looking up the latest information on local gas stations that still had gas available.
“People just want to talk to an actual person when they have an issue with something,” said Interim Library Director Marianne Silver. “We have great librarians here who are willing to do a little digging to help someone out. After the storm, the staff really pitched in and was great.”
The library was closed Monday through Wednesday the week of the storm. Silver said she made the call Sunday night to not even open Monday just to be safe. She added that on Thursday morning, she went early to the library to check if the power was back on. Once she saw that it was, she made sure to get the wifi online, and she and the staff put out extension cords and power strips so as many people as possible could charge their electronics. Ostertag said the library recently upgraded its wifi, which came in handy after the storm.
“It was crazy,” Silver said. “Thursday and Friday we were packed to the rafters with people. They were in every nook and cranny of the library.”
Silver said the library typically opens at 11 a.m. on Fridays, but she decided to open two hours early last week just because of the expected crowd.
“By 10 we were completely packed,” she said. “We didn’t send out an email or anything to let people know. We usually use that time to clean up and have meetings, so we just left the door open. Before we opened there were people standing outside waiting.”
Of course, at its core, the library is also a giant building full of books, and Silver said tons of families came in and rented out stacks of books and DVDs, especially with schools canceled for the entire week. She added that the teen room was packed the entire week as well.