Assessing the Sciences
Bruce Abbott's mother has lived in Athens for 20 years and his family visited many times over summer and Christmas holidays. But, this fall he realized he didn't know Athens at all.
“I had never been here Fall Semester. I had never been here at the beginning of a semester,” he said. “It's a very different place when the students are here.”
Abbott has spent 29 years as a librarian, all of it in Louisiana and most recently as Assistant Director for Library Systems and Electronic Resources at the LSU Health Sciences Center. He and his family landed in Athens after fleeing their home and an impending Hurricane Katrina. Abbott is currently working at UGA as a “science assessment librarian,” to determine the Libraries' ability to meet the growth in science research, especially biomedical, on campus.
“My task is to assess what the Libraries' response to the growth has been and should be over the next 20 years,” he said. “It has turned out to be an interesting project, interesting in the Chinese-sense.”
To that end, Abbott has been reading published research, studying web pages and plans to visit with researchers to talk about what resources they need and use, and to talk with library staff as well.
"Bruce brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly in biomedical and health science library issues," said Lucy Rowland, head of Science Collections. "I had wanted to do an assessment of library services and collections for years, due to the growth of the University's research and degree programs in life science and medicine. I feel certain that the study and recommendations will serve both the University Libraries and the science departments well for years to come."
The Abbott family's story is one that illustrates the devastation caused by the hurricane, and their endurance in trying to mend their broken lives. Before the hurricane hit, they had followed the news stories as it wandered through the Gulf of Mexico at the end of August.
“I've lived in Louisiana since I was three. I had a sense Katrina wasn't going to hit New Orleans – and it didn't,” he said; “but the storm surge did and the levees failed. For New Orleans Katrina wasn't a natural disaster, it was a man-made one.”
The Abbotts planned to evacuate on the Saturday before the storm was predicted to make landfall, after Bruce had put plywood over the windows and secured the property. Bruce came down with a virus and was too sick to do the work, but he and their high school daughter completed the work the following day and Bruce found a route to avoid the gridlock many evacuees faced.
“We were ready to turn around Tuesday and go back when we began to get a sense of what the flooding was doing,” he said.
It was about a month later -- in October -- when he saw his house again. “I had been forewarned, but the cliché, ‘until you see it, you can't appreciate it,' is true. There was about six feet of water in our house for two or three weeks. The water wasn't still – it would rush in and rush out – so the refrigerator was turned over, the bookcases turned over, the beds and sofas had floated to different places and the doors were all swollen shut and had to be cut open. All the furniture with particle board had melted, disintegrated,” he said. “I had lots and lots of books; those were a gelatinous mass on the floor, four to five inches deep.”
Ceramics, pottery and stainless items were all that were salvageable from the family's home.
“We took our important papers and photo albums with us. We went digital with our photos about a year and a-half ago.” he said.
A son, majoring in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, was running a server in the house where the most recent family photos were stored.
“We probably lost our photos from the last year or so. That's a big loss for us,” he said. “One of the greatest Christmas presents we have is from my sister-in-law who made a photo album of photos of our family over the years.”
Abbott is not optimistic about New Orleans' future. Calling the “signs mixed,” he said, recovery for areas of the city not flooded is proceeding well, but 60 percent suffered significant flooding.
Abbott's wife is a registered nurse and has continued in her job in New Orleans. Their two youngest children returned to New Orleans in the new year when their schools reopened. (A fourth child is a biomedical engineering student at Tufts.)
“Our family is living apart right now, but even though I'm from Louisiana, I'm not from New Orleans. I don't have family ties that would bring me back to New Orleans.
Keeping Bruce company in Athens are the family's two dogs, a Collie and an Airedale, and their Persian cat. As might be expected, Bruce enjoys reading.
“My tastes are broad, I read in most genres,” he said, “but my absolute favorite is Southern literature. I do read some things for escape, as well, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I usually have three to five books going at a time. I went to library school so I could read!”