Success at the Reference Desk: A New Librarian Comes to the Aid of Evacuees

by Janet Bickel-Burton

In the early afternoon of Wednesday, September 8, I received a rushed, desperate phone call in our library. Ms. Anderson had tried Google without success; she needed web pages that were offline. Our caller was seeking help with admitting transfer nursing students from New Orleans. Janice Anderson, Nursing Admissions Coordinator for Texas Woman’s University at the Parkland branch campus (in Dallas), urgently needed help finding course numbers and course descriptions for “LSU HSC in New Orleans”. The course information was vital to enable emergency advising for our transfer nursing students. Most of these students had left their homes and lives behind - without transcripts. Who would think of academic transcripts as “important documents” in an emergency? Me neither!

Our library staff discussed the most expedient information retrieval options -- including a visit to Dallas Public Library's print collection of university catalogs. We also tried an initial Google search and confirmed no current LSU HSC web pages were directly accessible on September 8, 2005. As luck would have it, a faculty member heard us discussing our options and she provided vital clues to our search success. The faculty member chimed in, “I attended LSU Health Science Center near downtown New Orleans; their computer center and transcript office are located on the first floor.” We speculated the building was probably completely flooded to the second or third floor. That meant digging deeper.

After trying various search strategies, I really dug into Google - and trusted I had really learned advanced research skills in library school. First, I found a listing of Louisiana nursing schools to obtain the correct URL. Next, using Google's Advanced Search feature, I combined the exact phrase of "course description" with the limiter of site: Google retrieved 35 matches; I used the cached web pages feature to obtain the vital information for each area of LSU HSC’s nursing undergraduate and graduate degrees. The nursing students' admissions applications and advising were finalized over the next few days. Soon our library was processing our newest students navigating their way from trauma to normalcy by setting up library borrowing accounts and getting their new university ID cards.

Many people were fortunate to escape this disaster with their lives, I am thankful for that. Those who were truly lucky got to take a few possessions, a change of clothes, and important papers such as their mortgage, insurance, and other key documents. Communities and libraries all over Texas and the nation welcomed the evacuees as their newest residents. In the haste to evacuate, relatively few students or faculty considered including copies of their diplomas or transcripts among their "important" papers to take with them. But, through the power of using Google's cache files and this "newly minted" librarian’s skills, we were able to help evacuees survive the trauma of 'starting over' and regain a sense of normalcy in their lives - in our own small way. I have now added copies of all academic transcripts, resumes, and diplomas to my own emergency documents files. Lessons learned from one day’s work as a new librarian!