Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Library Journal: Explosive Change in the Library

One more essay is up at Library Journal:
As the library staff collected across the street at their designated meeting spot, they heard a loud noise and saw a smoking manhole cover in front of them pop. Later, they found that an underground explosion had lifted and broken a concrete floor of the library, buckling walls and blowing doors off their hinges.
The latest news on the Morristown library is that the local power company, whose lines were probably the cause of the explosion, can't figure out how to get a new connection wired, causing further delay to the reopening.

After writing this piece, it occurred to me that there ought to be established an "Emergency Response Digital Public Library" that could be deployed wherever and whenever needed. A library that experiences a loss by fire, flood or other disaster such as Morristown's has enough work on its hands in trying to clean up the mess and to re-establish service to be able to provide for all of its community's library needs. A large number of libraries on the gulf coast simply closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Certainly many publishers would be willing to provide free licenses to content is such situations- not only would it generate good will, but it would expose audiences to all the good stuff they have to offer. In fact, aggregators such as EBSCO and Proquest have made content available this way; but to my knowledge, there's not been a library organization to organize and promote the content for patrons of libraries that have experienced disaster loss. The Health Library for Disasters is a good example of what's posssible, though with a much narrower focus.

An additional benefit of establishing an emergency response digital public library would be that it could serve as a laboratory for libraries as they make their own transitions into digital information. Extensive "instrumentation" and careful compilation of statistics and usage patterns could be used to improve non-emergency digital libraries.

Too often, people are willing to donate money to relief efforts when a disaster occurs, but the infrastructure needed to absorb that aid doesn't exist. Modest expenditures on preparation before a disaster occurs can greatly increase the effectiveness of that aid. It seems to me that a broad-based digital library would be a useful part of that preparation.
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