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How Libraries are Turning Into Disaster Management Centers Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

What Is the Role of Libraries During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

By IGI Global on Apr 9, 2020

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.

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In response to COVID-19 mandates, teachers, students, and librarians globally are being forced to transition to an online-only environment, as many prominent schools, libraries, and universities are closing their campuses. Through this transition, all parties within the educational system are being challenged to quickly adapt to this new environment, with librarians being responsible for ensuring all library resources are available from a remote location. However, according to a recent Wired article, the call for librarians often goes beyond providing reference materials, as many libraries are being turned into emergency care centers for patients with COVID-19 and resource hubs for the latest COVID-19 news and updates.


“It is inevitable that library staff will need to respond to natural disasters and emergency situations – often with little or no advance warning,” explains Ms. Jill Dixon and Ms. Nancy Abashian, librarians from Binghamton University, in the publication, Research Anthology on Library Science and Administration: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global). “An important part of emergency planning is addressing public and staff safety prior, during, and immediately following emergencies. All libraries need to develop a comprehensive emergency plan with clear, consistent, and concise policies and procedures for staff.”1

Library Science and Administration: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications
Edited by Dr. Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A (Executive Editor, IGI Global)
Copyright: © 2018 | Pages: 1,735 | ISBN: 9781522539148| EISBN: 9781522539155

A comprehensive reference source for the latest scholarly material on trends, techniques, and management of libraries and examines the benefits and challenges of library administration. ...Learn More.

Librarians and institutions alike are enacting emergency plans and adapting to this critical role libraries are serving as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. However, this is not the first instance where libraries were utilized in crises or emergencies.

According to Prof. Emily Nelson Decker and Prof. Jennifer A. Townes, from Atlanta University Center and Robert W. Woodruff Library, USA, editors of the Handbook of Research on Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries (IGI Global), libraries have transitioned from an “emphasis on protecting and restoring collections” to an emphasis on serving the overall community.2

Handbook of Research on Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries
Edited by Prof. Emy Nelson Decker and Prof. Jennifer A. Townes (Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 | Pages: 676 | ISBN: 9781466686243 | EISBN: 9781466686250

A critical scholarly resource that brings together the latest scholarly research, theories, and case studies to investigate the scale and types of disasters that can impact a library. ...Learn More.

Mr. Michael Mabe, MLIS, from Chesterfield County Public Library, USA, in his publication The Developing Role of Public Libraries in Emergency Management: Emerging Research and Opportunities (IGI Global), continues to explain that libraries are in convenient locations, have needed amenities (i.e. restrooms, electric, internet), and have ample space making them ideal locations for emergency management responders and survivors. Additionally, librarians’ day-to-day tasks of collecting and communicating information make them ideal collaborators in turbulent situations.

The Developing Role of Public Libraries in Emergency Management: Emerging Research and Opportunities
Edited by Mr. Michael Mabe, MLIS, (Chesterfield County Public Library, USA) and Ms.Emily A. Ashley (Chesterfield County, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 | Pages: 119 | ISBN: 9781522521969 | EISBN: 9781522521976

An essential reference source for the latest scholarly information on library engagement in official emergency response and how these institutions can offer community aid in disaster situations. ...Learn More.

Through these resources and skills, libraries have been utilized in notable disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and after 9/11 in 2001 in the United States. Additionally, public libraries have often been utilized as “unofficial day shelters” for the homeless, and they will rent out general supplies (cooking ware, power tools, etc.) for the community and are seen as a lifeline for lower-income families.

According the chapter “The Natural Role of the Public Library,” from the aforementioned publication, eight service roles were identified for librarians and libraries in emergencies, which include:3

  • Being a Safe Haven: Libraries represent a safe place for most people due to thier well-constructed buildings and locations. Often, during emergencies like floods and hurricanes, libraries will stay open to provide resources, shelter, and electricity to the community.

  • Offering Normal Services: Through turbulent situations, librarians will continue to assist their patrons with teaching, providing support for assignments, and providing resources.

  • Coordinating Disaster Recovery: Most notably, librarians are utilized in disaster assistance and will guide individuals through the application process for aid through the government. If the facilities are open, emergency workers will often utilize the library as a center where people can fill out forms and ask questions regarding assistance.

  • Serving as a Cultural Organization Center: Often with natural disasters, libraries will need restoration work to maintain their collections and archives. Therefore, librarians, conservationists, archivists, curators, registrars, and collection care specialists will be trained to provide conservation and preservation advice and assistance.

  • Operating as an Information Hub: With their centralized location, resources, and standing in the community, libraries will provide mass communications during an emergency and will communicate with the public important research or measures.

  • Being an Evacuee Resource: In the case of a hurricane or wildfire, libraries will often be a centralized location community members can go to for protection. Additionally, they will also often shelter immigrants and refugees.

  • Improvising: As librarians often address system issues and suggestions as well as problem solve, they often assist in preparing the community for a disaster through offering programs and training. Additionally, in times of turbulence, they will provide on-site or remote events and activities (movie nights, book talks/webinar, classes, etc.) to keep their patrons and communities engaged and serve as a morale boost.

  • Gathering and Storing Oral Histories of Events: Libraries and librarians will also collect information around disasters to make it available for future generations. These materials can assist in the process of healing or be provided to plan for the future.

Although, these are just eight examples of our libraries and librarians answering the call of emergency situations, there are thousands more, as libraries around the world assist when a disaster occurs in their community. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, academic and public libraries are continuing to offer research and resources to assist the community in healing and combating the virus.

In support of librarians impacted by the global pandemic of COVID-19, the latest research and information for library crisis management is readily available, including the Library Science and Administration: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global), edited by Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A., Executive Editor of IGI Global. This critical publication highlighting a range of pertinent topics such as digital libraries, information sciences, and academic libraries, and more.

This publication is currently available both in electronic (EISBN: 9781522539155) format through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 50% discount, and is featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci®-Books database (5,300+ e-books). Recommend this publication and the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical research, as well as thousands of other research resources, including the chapters below, in the IGI Global InfoSci-Books database.

Complimentary Research Articles and Chapters on Library Crisis Management:

In response to the timeliness and importance of this topic, we have made all of the below articles and chapters complimentary to access. As such, please feel free to integrate these resources into your research and share them across your network.



Featured Publications Surrounding Library Crisis Management:

Learn More
Recommend to Library
Impact of Economic Crisis on Education and the Next-Generation Workforce
Prof. Patricia Ordóñez de Pablos (University of Oviedo, Spain) and Prof. Robert D. Tennyson (University of Minnesota, USA)

Copyright: © 2016 | Pages: 432| ISBN: 9781466694552| EISBN: 9781466694569

Through this book, professors, students, politicians, policymakers, corporate leaders, senior general managers, managing directors, information technology directors, and managers will understand the evolution and needs of new labor markets, including challenges for education, higher education and reforms, mobile and distance learning in higher education, problems in the current labor market, and the role of faculty with respect to workforce training.


Learn More
Recommend to Library
Online Collaboration and Communication in Contemporary Organizations
Prof. Ditte Kolbaek (Aalborg University, Denmark)

Copyright: © 2018 | Pages: 348 | ISBN: 9781522540946 | EISBN: 9781522540953

This publication is a critical scholarly resource that identifies the new practices and techniques for leading, knowledge sharing, and learning through the use of online collaboration. Featuring coverage on a broad range of topics such as online leadership, intercultural competence, and e-ethics, this book is geared toward professionals, managers, and researchers seeking current research on new practices for online collaboration and communication.


Learn More
Recommend to Library
Emergency Management and Disaster Response Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships
Prof. Marvine Paula Hamner (LeaTech, LLC, USA), Prof. S. Shane Stovall (True North Emergency Management, USA), Prof. Doaa M. Taha (GMI, Ltd, USA) and Salah C. Brahimi (GMI, Ltd, USA)

Copyright: © 2015 | Pages: 345 | ISBN: 9781466681590 | EISBN: 9781466681606

This scholarly publication bridges the gap between the theoretical and the practical components of crisis management and response. By discussing and presenting research on the benefits and challenges of such partnerships, this publication is an essential resource for academicians, practitioners, and researchers interested in understanding the complexities of crisis management and relief through public and private partnerships.


Learn More
Recommend to Library
Research Anthology on Emergency and Disaster Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (3 Volumes)
Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Executive Editor of IGI Global)

Copyright: © 2019 | Pages: 1723 | ISBN: 9781522561958 | EISBN: 9781522561965

This scholarly publication is an innovative reference source for the latest research on the theoretical and practical components of initiating crisis management and emergency response. Highlighting a range of topics such as preparedness and assessment, aid and relief, and the integration of smart technologies, this multi-volume book is designed for emergency professionals, policy makers, practitioners, academicians, and researchers interested in all aspects of disaster, crisis, and emergency studies.


View All Publications With Content Related to This Topic



To view all IGI Global titles related to COVID-19, download the comprehensive title list:

Download Comprehensive COVID-19 Title List (Excel)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.


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1 Dixon, J., & Abashian, N. (2018). Beyond the Collection: Emergency Planning for Public and Staff Safety. In I. Management Association (Ed.), Library Science and Administration: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp. 1494-1514). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-3914-8.ch070

2 Decker, E. N., & Townes, J. A. (2016). Handbook of Research on Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries (pp. 1-676). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8624-3

3 Mabe, M., & Ashley, E. A. (2017). The Natural Role of the Public Library. In The Developing Role of Public Libraries in Emergency Management: Emerging Research and Opportunities (pp. 25-43). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-2196-9.ch003
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