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The southern United States has had a tough go of it this hurricane season, and there is still another month to go. Hurricane Maria battered the Caribbean before its remnants traveled up the East Coast.
Hurricanes are not the only natural disasters awaiting libraries in the United States. In the Midwest we worry about flooding and tornadoes. Out West they struggle with wildfires and earthquakes. How do libraries across the country prepare for imminent natural disasters?
Libraries plan for the worst and hope for the best. “There is only so much we can do,” says Lois, a librarian on the North Carolina coast. “We put our local history books in plastic totes and move them away from windows. Computer equipment gets covered with plastic bags.” She continues, “In 18 years, we have never had a major loss from a hurricane.” And if they are ever in the direct path of a hurricane, county crews come and board up the library’s windows.
The Grimes Public Library has an emergency handbook with procedures for all sorts of emergencies – from natural disaste
rs to national emergencies, we want to be prepared and hope we never need to enact our plan. For a natural disaster such as a tornado, there is very little we can do to protect our collections. “Our only priority is keeping patrons and staff safe through the weather event. We can’t replace people,” says Director Cheryl Heid.
Even after the worst is past, libraries do all they can to chip in and help those affected. After Hurricane Katrina in 2006, libraries in Louisiana opened their doors to thousands of evacuees, offering temporary cards and access to computers so people could send updates to their loved ones. Many libraries offered free cards, books and story times, as well as a housing information exchange and readily available contact information for local service organizations. One library even took computers to locations where evacuees were staying to help them gain computer access.
Public libraries will do their best to serve their community in any capacity they can.
We can only hope we don’t have to see their resilience any time soon.