Community Disaster Response

Over the years, librarians, particularly preservation librarians, have written extensively about preparing for and recovering from a disaster, often localized at the library.  Preparations include both developing a plan for taking action, as well as documenting the specific techniques and resources tha will be needed to protect or restore the collections.

A few months ago, ALA Councilor Lauren Comito asked about the role of the library in the community following a natural disaster.  She noted that the literature covers dealing with the materials, noThe Southwest Oklahome City Public Library, located just one mile north of the Briarwood Elementary School that was destroyed in the May 20, 2013 tornado, offers refreshments and a recharging station to support victims and emergency workers.t the community, though with several large hurricane disasters--Katrina, Irene, Sandy--in the past decade there have been stories about the work individual librarians have done to help, even when they personally were affected, or when their libraries were unusable.  But is there more, she wondered, and indeed there is!

ALA Policy already recognizes the role libraries should play with Policy B.8.11: "The American Library Association urges governments at all levels to acknowledge and support the essential role local libraries play in providing e-government and emergency response/recovery services, and to include libraries in relevant legislative or other policy actions. The American Library Association also encourages continued research documenting library needs and capacity to provide effective e-government and emergency response/recovery services, and help libraries develop best practices and train staff to deliver these essential services." So what do we have on research and training?

Upcoming at the 2013 Annual Conference is a half-day workshop, sponsored by ASCLA, "Ports in a Storm: Your Library as a Disaster Recovery Center" to be held Friday, June 28, 8a.m.-12p.m.  This workshop focuses on community needs after an emergency and will prepare libraries to actively function as disaster recovery centers by partnering with emergency responders and providing vital resources to the community.  Presenters will offer first-hand accounts of how libraries in Queens, NY and New Jersey responded to superstorm Sandy, discuss the library role in educating communities on disaster preparedness, and review the resources available via the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) Emergency Preparedness & Response Initiative.

The Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries sponsored "ACURIL 2011: The Role of Libraries and Archives in Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Research," May 30 -June 3, 2011. The proceedings, linked from a general information page, include a paper,  “The Role of Digital Libraries in Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation,” by Laurie Taylor and Brooke Wooldridge.

For research, the Disaster Information Management Research Center of the the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has posted "Librarians and Libraries Respond to Disasters: Bibliography on Library Roles in Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery."  This bibliography lists numerous news articles with specific stories of library and librarian response in all types of libraries--school, public, academic, and medical--as well as scholarly articles seeking to define the unique role of libraries.

Another bibliography contained in "The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Gulf Coast Libraries and Their Disaster Planning," a 2011 master's thesis by SJSU student Jeffrey M. Frank, references the many examples of libraries assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The following set of links and citations are the building blocks for developing a community response plan.

Bertot John Carlo, Paul T. Jaeger, Lesley A. Langa, and Charles R. McClure. "Public Access Computing and Internet Access in Public Libraries: the Role of Public Libraries in E-government and Emergency Situations." First Monday, 2006 Sept 4;11(9):[about 26 pages]. Presents findings from the 2006 Public Libraries and the Internet study and other research that demonstrate the impact of public Internet access in public libraries on the communities and individuals that the libraries serve.  Public libraries increasingly play significant roles in times of emergencies, like the aftermath of a hurricane, in which communities rely on the public library Internet access to request aid, try to find missing family and friends, file Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance claims, and begin rebuilding their lives. Suggests policy imperatives to enhance the role.  Related to this article is Charles R. McClure, et al. "Hurricane Preparedness and Response for Florida Public Libraries." Florida Libraries 2009 Spring;52(1):4-7. (PDF, 3 MB)  Defines specific steps for ensuring that libraries will be equip public libraries to respond more successfully to hurricanes and other disasters and, in partnership with other agencies, mitigate some of the damage and destructions that these hurricanes bring to the state.

Bishop, Bradley Wade, and Shari R. Veil. "Public Libraries as Post-Crisis Information Hubs." Public Library Quarterly. Jan.-Mar. 2013, Vol. 32 Issue 1, p. 33-45. Reports on services and activities public libraries performed in response and recovery in twelve different communities affected by tornadoes, with recommendations to improve preparedness and response.

Featherstone, Robin M. and Becky J. Lyon, Angela B. Ruffin. “Library Roles in Disaster Response: An Oral History Project by the National Library of Medicine,” Journal of the Medical Library Association 96, no. 4 (Oct. 2008). From interviews with 37 librarians who had responded to a range of emergencies, the authors identified eight roles:  institutional supporters, collection managers, information disseminators, internal planners, community supporters, government partners, educators and trainers, and information community builders.  For the role of information dissemination, they noted that the library acted as the primary source of information for the entire community.  For the role of community supporter, they noted functions as diverse as filling out FEMA forms or helping people find shelter for their pets.

Hamilton, Rebecca. "The State Library of Louisiana and Public Libraries' Response to Hurricanes: Issues, Strategies, and Lessons." Public Library Quarterly 30.1 (2011): 40-53.

Howard, Jennifer. "What Katrina Can Teach Libraries About Sandy and Other Disasters." Chronicle of Higher Education, posted November 14, 2012.  Includes suggested additions to the traditional institutional disaster response plan, as well as tips for a broader response.

Malizia, Michelle and Rebecca Hamilton, Deborah Littrell, Karen Vargas, & Cynthia Olney. "Connecting Public Libraries with Community Emergency Responders." Posted to Public Libraries Online,  April 26, 2013  In describing the function of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) as one organization that is well-positioned to be a liaison between public libraries and emergency responder groups, the authors identified public library qualities that make them a valuable resource during disaster response, starting with "Library staffs are skilled at assisting the general public in locating information."

United States. Federal Emergency Management Agency. A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2011.  Presents a foundation for increasing individual preparedness and engaging with members of the community as vital partners in enhancing the resiliency and security of our Nation through a Whole Community approach.

Zach, Lisl, and Michelynn Mcknight. 2010. "Special Services in Special Times: Responding to Changed Information Needs During and After Community-Based Disasters." Public Libraries. 49, no. 2: 37. Examines the differences between traditional disaster planning and planning for responsive information services and considers the special information needs of the communities affected by disasters.

Finally, from a 1987 special issue of Special Libraries on “Emergency Management” we have three papers that foresaw the need for local library assistance:

Griffen Agnes M. "Potential Roles of the Public Library in theLocal Emergency Management Program: a Simulation. Special Libraries. 1987;78(2):122-130.

Magrath Lynn L. and Kenneth E. Dowlin. "The Potential for Development of a Clearinghouse for Emergency Information in the Public Library". Special Libraries. 1987;78(2):131-135.

Sheldon Ted P. and Gordon O. Hendrickson. "Emergency Management and Academic Library Resources. Special Libraries. 1987;78(2):93-99.


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Eden H.

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