In September of last year, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 hurricane, the worst natural disaster on record to hit this U.S. territory. Wind, rain, flooding, and mudslides largely destroyed the island’s electrical grid, flattened farms, and damaged houses, roads, stores and ports. One of the less visible consequences was the abrupt restriction of public access to books and educational resources as so many libraries had been damaged by the storm.

Though a connection initially made by full-time lecturer Yamile Martí Haidar, the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW) soon learned that this destruction included many of the social work volumes housed within the library system of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPR-RP). The collection belongs to the Beatriz Lassale School of Social Work, the oldest and largest the largest and oldest social work school in Latin America.

Upon learning that the school’s director, Lillian Abite Velez, had called for assistance with replacing 30 key books, faculty at CSSW held a book drive, and Associate Professor Susan Witte reached out to Columbia University Press, which donated an additional 40 books. As the recovery continues, CSSW will provide digital library resources to 17 UPR students through the support of the Provost’s Office.

“Hurricane Maria has presented our colleagues in Puerto Rico with unprecedented challenges after losing their library and classrooms, and we stand with them,” said Allen Zweben, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Research, going on to note that UPR-RP’s library system not only serves the research and teaching needs of the university community but also extends its services to the Puerto Rican community at large.

“Discussions are ongoing, and there will doubtless be more opportunities to offer support,” Dean Zweben said. “In fact, a number of our students have expressed interest in traveling to Puerto Rico to join in relief efforts.”

“I am very grateful for your interest and collaboration in helping us during this difficult time,” said PPR-RP Director Abite Velez. She also offered to guide CSSW’s student volunteers to critical areas of need.

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