The Public Library as an Essential Service

The May/June 2012 issue of Public Libraries includes the article “Connecting Public Libraries with Emergency Responders.”  It is also available online:

The Monday after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the director of a rural public library situated about 70 miles inland arrived at her library to find a woman sitting in the parking lot, in tears. As a Katrina evacuee, this woman only had her car, her dog, and the clothes on her back. She waited for the library to open, trusting that it was one place in town that would welcome strangers.

While victims know, or quickly figure out, that libraries can provide necessary assistance to them during disasters, the emergency management community has slowly come to understand the value of public libraries as disaster response resources. In fact, the first formal recognition of public libraries as essential community organizations came in January 2011 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to make libraries eligible for temporary relocation during major disasters and emergencies under the FEMA Public Assistance Program.


There is a LOT of good information in the article, including how libraries can partner with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) “to meet the needs of their users and advocate for them as a key resource to those facing emergencies and disasters.”

It seems to me a natural role for public libraries to serve their communities in emergency and disaster situations.  And it seems to me that this capability is one that can show communities the value of their libraries.   I encourage you to think about this (and read the Public Libraries article) as we move into summer, when many natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes typically occur.

See also:

Photo © 2005 Kelly Garbato,  Flickr.
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