Two Fires and a Flood: Lasting Impact on a Public Library, Its Staff, and Community

Two Fires and a Flood: Lasting Impact on a Public Library, Its Staff, and Community

Bernadine Goldman (Los Alamos County Library System, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8624-3.ch024
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This chapter explores the ongoing path toward disaster preparedness taken by Los Alamos County Library System. The library system has experienced three disasters since the year 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire; a cloudburst that sent water pouring through the library's skylight, and the Las Conchas Fire. The author tells the stories of these disasters, and their impacts on the library, its staff and community, with some emphasis on the emotional impacts. These stories and the lessons learned from them are interwoven with the steps and missteps in the writing of the library's disaster preparedness manual and the ongoing need to keep preparedness efforts active. The importance of forming supportive relationships with colleagues in the local government and with regional library cohorts, and the magnitude of the role the library staff, collections and facility already had in the community, a role that expanded in the recovery process, are highlighted.
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No two disasters are identical. There are differences in the degree of surprise; sometimes there may be advance notice. Thanks to modern meteorology, there are often warnings prior to the arrival of tornadoes and hurricanes, although their intensity may not be as expected; the approach of wildfires is also often known in advance. Other disasters, such as burst pipes and earthquakes, give no time for preparation. There are differences in the magnitude of disasters, with pandemics encompassing entire countries, and explosions demolishing perhaps only one building. To the people affected, a disaster, whether large or small, has a lasting impact on their view of the world and their place in it. To an affected library and its staff, disasters, even small-scale ones, are not soon forgotten. Priorities are shifted, and the library’s view of its place in its community is forever changed.

Literature that is specific to disasters and libraries tends to be practical in nature. There are detailed monographs (Halsted, Clifton, and Wilson, 2014; Kahn, 2012) containing complete guides and checklists for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery; as well as numerous instructive journal articles on steps libraries can take to write a disaster preparedness manual. Wilson, Yowell and Holst (2009), for example, have written a very concise guide covering all the basic steps in creating such a manual. In addition, there are websites specifically for libraries that contain many resources to help in the creation of a disaster preparedness manual (Lib2Gov, 2013; Northeast Document Conservation Center, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Las Conchas Fire: A huge forest fire in northern New Mexico in June, 2011, that burned close to the town of Los Alamos.

Person In Charge (PIC): A senior library staff member who accepts responsibility for the library’s facility, staffing, and customer service outside of regular business hours.

Cerro Grande Fire: A large forest fire in northern New Mexico in May, 2000, that destroyed over 400 homes in the town of Los Alamos.

Preparedness: Readiness for whatever may happen, used especially in connection with emergencies and disasters.

Cloudburst: A large amount of rain dropped by a sudden, severe thunderstorm.

Los Alamos County Library System: A small– to medium-sized library system in northern New Mexico, serving 25,000 people.

Flooding: A large amount of water in a place that is normally dry.

Recovery: The steps that are taken after disaster strikes to help get a community, its residents and institutions back to normal.

Wildfire: A forest fire that moves very quickly.

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