Libraries Are Resource Hubs During a Disaster
When disasters strike libraries are ready to help
Libraries have always played a vital role in the lives of their community members. Providing access to knowledge becomes extremely important in a variety of situations. It’s not just mental stimulation and a haven of books that libraries can provide. They also take care of the well-being of their patrons by supporting them during disasters. This takes the form of physical safe spaces as well as somewhere to turn to when disaster victims need resources like technology or advice. As a result, those in the community can pull through tough times knowing they’ve got the library watching out for them.
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Libraries do important work daily, even more so during times of crisis. These institutions have been recognized United States law as essential community functions during disasters because of the reach, impact, and resources they have. As such, the American Library Association (ALA) has released a handbook that helps libraries develop a plan for responding during disasters.
“The Disaster Planning Handbook for Libraries” includes tools, activities, templates, and hands-on guidance that will make them ready when a disaster occurs. These include phases of disaster response and preparing for specific types of disasters like fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and others. It also has recommendations for courses and training for librarians on the best way to work with state and local governments to provide aid. There are even sections that cover building and collections inspections and advice and games to keep on hand to help families prepare.
The guidebook was created by Mary Grace Flaherty, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Sciences who has extensive experience in a wide variety of library settings. Her guidebook can be purchased off the ALA website as well as through other book retailers and distributors.
Physical Safe Spaces
The library is an information hub for all types of disasters. In many cases, they’ve been known to provide shelter and resources to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, or shootings. Libraries turn into a different kind of resource hub in these cases. They help families reconnect, give people a place to catch their breath, and connect them with relief resources like aid, food, or the internet.
For example, after Hurricane Sandy, libraries in New York gave storm victims a place to start over. Branches of the library that weren’t damaged by flooding provided patrons with basic services like running water in the restrooms to freshen up, air conditioning, outlets, and internet.
Financial aid is also an important aspect of help that the library provided. The NYPL libraries provided free financial planning seminars for hurricane victims. These events allowed organizations like the Red Cross to provide important print information to patrons that stopped by. In some cases, librarians even went above and beyond to donate expenses towards those who needed it.
COVID-19: A New Kind of Experience
The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for libraries to step up as community supporters and leaders. Libraries have stepped into roles they haven’t held in the past.
The gaps in access to the internet and technology have only become more apparent since the pandemic started. This was true for many college students across the country who found themselves without access to laptops or devices beyond their phones. This was also the case for many community members who relied on in-person library visits to use the internet. Libraries were able to pivot during the pandemic by offering curbside pickups for books and supplies as well as the option to check out much-needed devices like portable hotspots and laptops.
Another responsibility that libraries have taken on is the aid they’re able to provide for healthcare needs. Many have converted their parking lots and other designated spaces into vaccine clinics and COVID-19 testing sites. With the number of people that need to get tested and vaccinated, having the extra space and support to fill this healthcare need has been a priority for getting the country back on track.
Because of the myriad of disasters and crises that libraries have faced, they are more equipped than ever to meet the needs of the community when there’s a call for help. Throughout the pandemic, libraries were able to arm themselves with new information about how to best address the critical needs of patrons. For example, libraries in certain areas realized the importance of copying and fax machines for community members to submit documentation for aid to the government. Situations are always evolving and the amazing thing about libraries is that they continue to evolve alongside them.