“In his book Palaces for the People, sociologist Eric Klinenberg describes how a group of planners met to discuss ways to restore resiliency to 21st century cities. Someone proposed a compelling idea for a “resilience center”—a place that would be a community gathering place, open every day, welcoming to everyone, staffed by trained professionals, with flexible space that could be adapted for many uses. Klinenberg realized that most American communities already have such a place and that it’s called a branch library.

Essential in time of crisis

The importance of libraries for community resilience was demonstrated in November 2018 when the massive Camp Fire in Butte County California destroyed the town of Paradise. Before the fire was extinguished it burned 153,336 acres and 18,804 structures; tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and 85 people died. In the aftermath of the blaze, American Libraries magazine reported that branches of the Butte County Library system had become disaster information centers offering computers, wi-fi and printers to help displaced people contact their insurance agents and get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Miraculously, the Paradise library was still standing in the blackened rubble. In an NPR Interview, Jody Jones, the mayor of Paradise, talked optimistically about re-building: “We still have a high school,” she said, “We still have a hospital, a library, a town hall.”

Before Hurricane Katrina, libraries were treated by FEMA as non-essential services, but after Louisiana libraries played a significant role in disaster recovery, there was pressure to change federal law. Since 2011, libraries have been treated as a priority for post-disaster restoration.”