When disaster strikes, MLIS student has resources ready

Search for libraries and disaster preparedness and you’ll get hundreds of articles, which proves Sarah Carnes’ point.

“The information and tools are all there; they are hard to access because of how they are packaged. The information is on web pages that are public, they are on multiple sites, but they are not branded in a certain way to let people know about them and made relevant.”

Carnes just spent the summer at the National Library of Medicine creating a visual reference and research guide of public resources available for libraries doing disaster planning. She is a third-year Master of Library and Information Science online student living in Massachusetts.

The project, All Ready Reference, is a program incorporating multiple methods to increase access to the essential information that a public librarian might need when disaster strikes a community.

“Public libraries have this huge role in emergencies and I’d never realized it,” said Carnes. “During Hurricane Sandy, people were going to the public libraries for shelter, for comfort, information, access to the internet.”

Carnes knows about disasters. She has a background in emergency preparedness, both in the military and a health care system. She also worked at the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, where she learned from people whose experiences included the Oklahoma City bombing and wildfires in California.

She has been through crises herself, with deployments in Bosnia and Albania. She managed the command center for the USS Cole bombing and worked in a hospital system in Northern New Jersey right after 9/11. She saw first-hand how information works very well among people who have done a lot of training and are used to working together. But that isn’t always the case.

“Time and time again, whether we were training people or helping people put their plans together, evaluating how they disseminated public information – information was the key problem,” noted Carnes.

Just before she started at the iSchool, she learned from a friend that there is a field called disaster information that resides within healthcare science librarianship but generally applies to all libraries. Carnes reached out to Siobhan Champ-Blackwell, Health Sciences Librarian at the National Library of Medicine, Disaster Information Management Research Center, who has served as her mentor throughout her degree program.

“She and I worked together over the last year to identify a project to incorporate exactly what I was interested in, which was disaster information and libraries. And she wanted to conduct a pilot with outreach to public libraries in Massachusetts through the National Network of Libraries of Medicine New England regional office at UMass Worcester.”

Carnes started with a framework for community outreach that was produced by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Pacific Northwest (based at the Health Sciences Library at UW). In the community assessment portion of the research, she used a combination of different sources of information, including gray literature, academic literature, surveys, books and observing training, and put together a more comprehensive picture of the needs of public libraries.

“I decided to put an infographic together for just public librarians and explain to them where the information would fit in with their needs and emergencies. And I also incorporated what was already occurring at the state level in Massachusetts, not just with the state government like emergency management, but with the library system with the Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness program.”

She got feedback on the infographic, research guide, and training program from various directors, who helped to uncover better URLs or style changes as she finalized the graphic.

The results of her efforts are being noticed. She presented to directors of libraries and cultural institutions at Massachusetts’ Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness program’s quarterly meeting in September. She’s also been invited to present at the Massachusetts Library Association conference and the Medical Library Association conference in May 2017.

“A lot of my experience helped me understand how important this stuff is and how wonderful it would be to get the information out in a way that people aren’t as afraid or intimidated or feeling excluded,” Carnes said.

“That is why I love working with public libraries and why I love working in emergency preparedness and working in this field, because it is all about people wanting to get the information out and taking care of people regardless of who they are or where they are from.”