Libraries and Librarians as Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources

A recent article in NJ Municipalities magazine highlighted the role that libraries and librarians have played in disaster response and illustrates ways that librarians can pursue a more active role in assisting first responders and federal agencies in the wake of a disaster. “Sheltering in the Stacks” describes how, after Superstorm Sandy, many New Jersey libraries served as not only community centers – places where residents could come to recharge cell phones, get a warm drink, or stay comfortable and safe – but also as unofficial Disaster Recovery Centers. As trusted public resources, libraries are an obvious choice for people to turn to in the event of a disaster, especially for access to and assurance of accurate information. In addition to these ways that libraries assisted their patrons, the article also encourages libraries and librarians to organize Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs). VOSTs consist of community volunteers who are trained to support the efforts of officials and first responders by bringing crucial information to their attention, collecting and prioritizing disaster-related reports from the public through social media.

The New Jersey State Library has recognized the importance of libraries and librarians in both resiliency and post-disaster recovery work and are creating a toolkit to help these “information first responders” in their work. The toolkit will consist of online resources designed to train librarians in proactive response techniques, and will include tools to increase preparedness, develop a disaster recovery plan for the facility itself, and provide advice on budgeting, operational challenges, and expectation management. The toolkit will provide information tailored to assist different parts of the community, such as local businesses, non-profit organizations, and other members of the public, allowing librarians to feel confident advising patrons on subjects ranging from documentation and business insurance to federal and private loans. The resources in the toolkit will aid librarians in disaster planning, response, and mitigation, providing a comprehensive picture of the roles and responsibilities libraries can fill in the community in the event of a disaster. The New Jersey State Library will present the completed toolkit at the New Jersey Library Association Conference in April, paving the way for other states to create similar resources. For more information about this exciting project, contact Michele Stricker, Associate Director, Library Support Services, at the New Jersey State Library.

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