2020?…What’s Next? How Libraries Can Become More Resilient to the Challenges Ahead

In today's day and age of the COVID pandemic, job loss, increased violence, and weather-related incidences, the Community Library has become more important than ever. People flock to libraries as a lifeline in times of need.


In today's day and age of the COVID pandemic, job loss, increased violence, and weather-related incidences, the Community Library has become more important than ever. People flock to libraries as a lifeline in times of need. The resources, services and programing libraries provide are critical to a community’s recovery and should not be an afterthought. What if your Library was part of a disaster? Is there a plan in place for that possibility? Whether planning for everyday Library use or for potential disasters, consider these three factors to help make your Library more resilient.
 

Flexibility Factor

 

Library needs and services are ever-changing as a response to their Communities, thus designing flexibility into layouts and furnishings has been increasing over the years. In 2019, small study rooms, collaborative spaces, and open flexible layouts were popular design trends. Less than a year later, a pandemic hit our communities and the need for social distancing, more private and physically divided areas became immediate necessities. The flexibility to alter spaces as trends change or crisis arise allows libraries to best serve the communities. After the 2004/2005 hurricane season, many coastal Libraries were being used for disaster relief functions, including distribution centers for food and supplies, command centers for authorities and FEMA staff, as well as a place of shelter. Large multi-purpose or meeting rooms, with access to water and restroom facilities are useful in setting up for temporary relief, but small intimate spaces can be just as important. Areas such as study rooms, semi-private alcoves, or high-backed booths create spaces for patrons to privately decompress after a disaster when they may be grieving the loss of belongings or even family members. Although it is hard to foresee the exact needs a community will have after a disaster, libraries can prepare themselves by maintaining a combination of open spaces and small and large gathering spaces that can easily be adapted for crisis-related functions. Creating a plan of how the spaces can be rearranged, designating relief areas such as a multipurpose room, can only help staff to react quickly to the unexpected.
 

Figure 1: Small study rooms at Cuyahoga County Public Library Mayfield Branch OH offer private breakout spaces near Library services.

Figure 2: Multi-purpose Programming space at Daviess County Public Library KY allows for flexibility with an operable garage door, stacking chairs and mobile tables to expand the space into the Library for other uses


The Power of Power
 

Even under normal circumstances, one of the most utilized Library features is access to the internet, digital content, and public computers. According to the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Survey, 64.5% of Libraries are the only free access to internet and computers in their communities; During a crisis, this need for power and technology is exponentially greater. Libraries should consider their means to provide power after a disaster and to what capacity. Does the Library have a backup generator in the event of power outages? Consider additional resources such as power strips, battery powered charging stations, and Wi-Fi sticks to provide support for patrons' additional needs to charge personal devices and gain internet access. In addition to the resources available for use in the building, consider if a lending program would benefit other community needs. Items like cameras, laptops, or charging banks that can be checked out are vital tools for community members trying to return to everyday life. Assessing your Library's power and technology usage on a typical day will help you understand if additional resources or new programming need to be acquired to supplement needs during a disaster.

 

Figure 2: Multi-purpose Programming space at Daviess County Public Library KY allows for flexibility with an operable garage door, stacking chairs and mobile tables to expand the space into the Library for other uses

Figure 3: Powered furniture at SIU Medical Library IL provides opportunity for patrons to charge and use their own devices throughout the Library. Wood powered niches allow for semi-private focused work.

 

Plan for the Unplanned
 

Consider a written Disaster plan to mitigate the effects of a disaster or emergency to the Library facility, patrons, and staff. Develop a plan that includes risk assessment, an understanding of building and local warning systems, and a response protocol. Risks are not only limited to fires, or natural disasters like flooding or tornadoes but include emergencies that may occur more frequently such as a violent or sick patron. A well-developed plan will enhance both staff and patron safety during high-stress scenarios. Partnering with local authorities and first responders will help develop a deeper understanding on what to do and preparedness for a crisis.

Another aspect to developing a Disaster plan is understanding the current condition of the facility and everything inside it. Generate documentation including building photos and an interior layout. Inventory all shelving, collections, historical items, and furniture pieces. Document the exterior conditions and surrounding site. As good practice, consider implementing a facilities assessment by an Architect, Engineer, or construction professional qualified to help you understand the condition of the current building, building systems and equipment. An assessment will give an approximation of when mechanical systems, roofing and other elements of the building will need to be replaced and a timeline for budgeting those improvements to keep the Library in top condition. A free online resource, Dplan can help you begin to draft a disaster Plan and assess building needs.

 

Figure 4: 2016 Renovation of Sanibel Public Library FL addressed community needs by adding additional meeting spaces and a second entry for convenience and building safety.

 

These are just a few of many factors to consider in making your Library more resilient in a crisis. As the old saying goes – “You can never be too prepared”. Now is the best time to think about how your library can best serve the community and make the necessary changes to become resilient to any challenges that lie ahead.

Author Credits: Stephanie Shook, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP, HBM Architects, Associate & Director of Interior Design and Anne Kuruc, HBM Architects, Designer.
 



Bishop, B. W. (2012). Community resilience and public libraries: Post crisis information and connectivity. University of Colorado Boulder. Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center.

Bertot, J.C., McDermott, A., Lincoln, R., Real, B., & Peterson, K. (2012). 2011-2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Survey: Survey Findings & Report. College Park, MD: Information Policy & Access Center, University of Maryland College Park. Available at http://www.plinternetsurvey.org

 

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