Public Libraries Can Play an Important Role in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster
AbstractA Review of:
Welsh, T. S. & Higgins, S. E. (2009). Public libraries post-Hurricane Katrina: A pilot study. Library Review, 58(9), 652-659.
Objective – This paper analyzes Hurricane Katrina-related narratives to document the challenges faced by public libraries after the disaster and the disaster-relief services these libraries provided.
Design – A qualitative thematic analysis of narratives obtained by convenience sampling.
Setting – Narratives were collected and analyzed in 2005 and 2006 across the Gulf Coast area of the United States.
Subjects – Seventy-two library and information science students enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Library and Information Science. Many worked in local libraries.
Methods – In this pilot study, students
volunteered to participate in a confidential process that involved telling their stories of their post-Hurricane Katrina experiences. Data was collected in a natural setting (the libraries in which the students worked), and inductive reasoning was used to build themes based on these research questions: What post-disaster problems related to public libraries were noted in the students’ narratives? What post-disaster public library services were noted in the narratives?
NVivo7 qualitative analysis software was used to analyze and code the narratives. Passages related to public libraries were coded by library location and student. These passages were analyzed for themes related to post-disaster challenges and disaster-recovery services pertaining to public libraries.
Main Results – Ten of the 72 narratives contained passages related to public libraries. The libraries included four in Alabama, one in Louisiana, and five in Mississippi. Results related to the first research question (What post-disaster problems related to public libraries were noted in the students’ narrative?) were physical damage to the building, from light damage to total destruction (reported in 8 or 80% of the students’ narratives), and inundation by refugees, evacuees, and relief workers (reported in 8 or 80% of the narratives). Results pertaining to the second research question (What post-disaster public library services were noted in the narratives?) included providing information for things such as providing information via the use of computers and the filling out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross aid forms (6 or 60% of the narratives included this), listening and providing comfort (5 or 50% of the narratives), and volunteering and donating, both from others and of the students’ own time, money, or materials (noted by 5 or 50% of the narratives).
Conclusion – The researchers concluded that while public libraries suffered devastation during the hurricane, after the hurricane, those libraries that could open provided essential services to people in need. These services included providing access to computers and access to information via computers, aid in filling out necessary relief aid forms, listening and providing comfort, and volunteering time, money, and materials. The public library clearly played a role in both providing information and facilitating communication. Documenting such contributions serves to illustrate the value of public libraries, especially in a post-disaster setting, and helps to demonstrate the value of public libraries in their communities.
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