My heart goes out to those affected by the recent hurricanes and my deepest thanks to all the first responders and utility workers who have gone to the aid of the millions of people in need. I am sure as recovery efforts evolve, those in the library community will be mobilizing to do all that we can to help and support.
In other communities, I hope all are reminded how quickly dangerous situations can arise. Many have repeated the importance and need of having a disaster plan in place before disaster strikes. The recent events have raised these questions in my own community. While I have reassured questioners that the library does have a disaster plan in place, I have also reminded people of the importance of libraries as second responders.
I am not a first responder. I have great respect for those that can do this work, because I am not one. My service as a librarian is not to be among the first people to enter a problem situation. I do not believe the library should serve as fallout shelter or that librarians should be on-call public servants. People have looked askance at me for closing the library during a storm or refusing a position in which I would have a mandatory requirement to stay in the library during a disaster.
In my view, librarians are second responders; a later role that is much needed and of significant importance. We are the group that enters the picture during the second wave of disaster relief, when many others have forgotten or grown weary of hearing of the situation. In this position, we provide necessary and valuable services, albeit at a different stage of the recover process. We are not triage, but recovery.
As second responders, librarians can provide much needed information, comfort, and community support. We are a centralized point for the sharing and disbursement of information. The library is the place that offers assistance for those needing to contact and pursue insurance, FEMA, or simply family in other locations. The library is the place where people can research information and get DIY project help. The library is the place that can provide a free, safe outing for children and families who need distraction or diversion. Librarians can supply the sympathetic ear to those who need to tell their stories.
We are the second responders. Like first responders, we don’t do this for glory or fame. We certainly don’t do it for fortune. We do it because it’s our job and because we care about our communities. We do it because we can provide hope and normalcy. We do it because it’s important to continue to help long after the television crews have moved on.