As California marks the end to yet another record-breaking fire season and enters a challenging next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries across northern California are working together to improve their capacity to prepare and respond to disasters. Libraries have been innovating and reflecting on the important role they play in building community resilience and their work together can be found at LibraryRecovery.org.
With support from Common Knowledge, 10 libraries have taken the NorthNet Library System’s Recovering Together Project a step further. Since September, a Disaster Preparedness cohort group has been meeting monthly to discuss key preparedness concepts and share insights from recent disaster experiences. These libraries are developing new emergency plans, strengthening relationships with partner organizations and re-evaluating the library’s role in disaster recovery, all while concurrently adapting their services and meeting community needs during the pandemic.
“We’ve learned a lot,” said Leilani Rania-Viale, human resources analyst with Sonoma County Library, during a recent cohort meeting. “We’re discussing how we can better engage the community and staff in our planning…We’re focusing on how we can help vulnerable populations during the pandemic and moving forward.”
While COVID-19 has created new challenges, such as how to deliver storytimes online, sanitize library materials and address community WiFi needs, it has also generated opportunities for growth and reflection.
For the Solano County Library, this has meant broadening conversations from emergency procedures to an expanded focus “on the role of the library in the community,” said Suzanne Olawski, assistant director of library services and chair of the NLS Executive Committee.
In Yolo County, the team is considering a wide range of next steps, including creating “city liaisons,” staff members who would improve coordination between library branches and the communities they serve, said Sharon Tani, assistant county librarian.
Cohort teams, such as the Tehama County Library, are updating their core values to help guide the library’s response during a disaster. Others are creating disaster plans for the first time, building relationships with county offices of emergency services or integrating emergency preparedness conversations into routine staff meetings. For many teams, the cohort has also provided the opportunity to pause and reflect.
“We’ve had these experiences over the last few years with wildfires and floods, but our library hasn’t really ever stopped to talk about it,” said one library team member. “It’s so easy to move on to the next thing.”
Although the cohort held its last formal meeting in December 2020, library teams will continue to work together in coming months as they finalize their disaster plans. In the meantime, they will have much to progress to celebrate. Team accomplishments and next steps include:
- Discussing the values and principles that should guide community recovery
- Writing comprehensive disaster plans and easy-to-use Pocket Prep plans
- Strengthening partnerships with library peers and NorthNet “library buddies”
- Building relationships with county health departments
- Adding COVID-19 and disaster preparedness resource to library websites
- Reconstituting preparedness safety committees
- Including preparedness activities in staff meetings
- Incorporating emergency preparedness into staff on-boarding procedures
- Working with security companies to improve responses during a mental health emergency in the library
- Re-evaluating COVID-19 reopening plans, in light of current health restrictions
For resources and more information on NorthNet’s preparedness initiative, visit LibraryRecovery.org