Preparing for catastrophes at PLA 2008

When I’m at library conferences, I tend to seek out everything that is related to international librarianship and disaster recovery and prep.  This afternoon, I’ll be attending a session at PLA 2008 about Catastrophe Readiness and Response: Proactive Roles for Public Libraries (see session 220) which should be interesting.  I have to say, however, that I’m a little disappointed that this is the only session on disaster preparedness at the conference this year.  I would love to see more research and sessions on how public libraries can be part of a community’s disaster preparedness plan.

It seems that academic libraries spend more time and energy on their own internal catastrophe planning, because they usually house collections that are either unique or hold more monetary or historical value. Not that public libraries don’t have collections that hold value.  When I attended the ALA Annual Conference 2006 in New Orleans, during a volunteer clean up day, I saw a collection of local African-American history in the Treme Library that we were gutting.  The Treme library had been a children’s library in a New Orleans neighborhood that had been home to musicians and other creatively engaged citizens of New Orleans.  The library had taken about 12 feet of water, and almost the entire collection was destroyed.  What was lost was not only a community center which had been an afternoon and weekend hangout for the local kids, but also this small tangible piece of the city’s history.

John Wood, of Room to Read, opened the PLA conference and shared with about 1000 librarians his vision and plan to educated 10 million children in the developing world by the year 2020.  He talked about the reason why Room to Read entered Sri Lanka right after the devastating disaster they experienced. He had read somewhere that for children, after a disaster, a return to normalcy was a very important part of their healing.  And for children, what does a return to normalcy include?  Why, school of course.  So Room to Read went in after this year will have rebuilt or built new 80 schools.

I can imagine children’s storytimes, afternoons at the library reading books and playing computer games would also seem like a “return to normalcy” to children affected by a disaster.  For adults, public access computers could be a vital link to applying for FEMA aid, contacting loved ones by email, contacting insurance companies, etc.?

I would also love to see any training for library staff in disaster preparedness that is similar to what Red Cross and other disaster recovery organizations go through.  Or, at least significant partnerships with disaster recovery organizations so that libraries are included in their disaster prep plans. At the least, it would be great to see some research sponsored that would survey what public libraries are already doing.

I wrote in BlogJunction a longish post about ideas on global policy intersecting with local policy, and the importance of collaboration that might be interesting to readers of this blog.

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