Schools are essential to rebuilding the Gulf Coast after last year’s hurricanes, and libraries are an essential part of schools, first lady Laura Bush told about 1,000 librarians, students, and others in late June.

“Until there are schools for their children, families won’t return home,” she told the audience at a town hall-style meeting. Her appearance was part of the American Library Association’s annual meeting, which drew 18,000 people to New Orleans in the city’s first major convention since hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The rebuilding job is unprecedented, Bush said: “Never have state school officials and local school superintendents had to restore entire school districts as fast as they can without a tax base to finance reconstruction.”

She praised Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Parish, La., schools, for opening a K-12 school on the second floor of Chalmette High School, which was a shelter for nearly a week after floodwaters destroyed the library and everything else on the first floor.

“Doris didn’t wait until she heard from FEMA. She just billed FEMA after she rebuilt her school,” Bush said, to laughter and applause.

School libraries damaged by the storms have received grants worth $500,000 to help them rebuild, along with a rare magazine collection, courtesy of the first lady’s foundation. Seven public and private schools in Louisiana and three in Mississippi will receive the money from the Laura Bush Foundation’s Gulf Coast Library Recovery Initiative.

Statistics from the ALA six months after the hurricanes indicated that in Louisiana, more than 150 school libraries were damaged or destroyed, and New Orleans Parish lost 63 percent of its 126 schools. Mississippi lost 43 school libraries, and the Mississippi Department of Education estimated it will cost more than $32 million to replace libraries and media centers in that state.

Also at the ALA meeting, two private companies announced gifts and grants to schools.

The scientific publisher Springer Inc. is giving free online access to more than 15,000 eBooks to seven universities hit by Katrina, a donation with a value of nearly $1.2 million. And discount retailer Dollar General Corp. announced $230,000 in grants to 32 libraries at schools that were hit by one of the storms or took in large numbers of displaced students.

Xavier University is one of the seven campuses getting the eBook collection.

“It’s an enormous amount of money being represented,” Xavier head librarian Robert Skinner said. Since Springer is one of the world’s largest science publishers and Xavier’s reputation is built on the sciences, “this is right up our alley,” he said.

In addition to Xavier, universities getting the eBooks are Tulane, Loyola, and Dillard universities, the University of New Orleans and Southern University at New Orleans, and Louisiana State University’s medical school, which has a campus and library separate from LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge.

The donation includes every title published this year and last by Springer, which owns 70 publishing houses in more than 20 countries.

The ALA and Dollar General announced the first grants to school libraries under the company’s $800,000 book and equipment replacement program. Seven of the first 32 recipients are in Texas, six in Mississippi, and the rest in Louisiana.

The program is open to any library affected by a natural disaster or terrorism, but those affected by last year’s hurricanes Wilma, which hit Florida, as well as Katrina and Rita have priority for early grants, Dollar General said.