Disaster Recovery for School Libraries

Lately, it feels as though we are in a constant state of preparing for or recovering from disasters, both natural and human made.

As storms Irma and Jose were downgraded to what still devastated some U.S. southeastern border communities, we were thankful that apocalyptic media reports were not fully realized. Yet, as citizens of both the Houston and the southeast Gulf Coast areas start the year, thousands of school children begin school in grave need of recovery assistance.

School librarians are sometimes the overlooked “link” to recovery; yet they stand singularly poised to offer some very specific assists.

As Information Curator

Librarians are masters at curating information. When disaster strikes the librarians’ patronage expands to include the families of our students who may need a central place in the school where they can go to gather recovery contact information. FEMA and other large agencies are applicable only if and when the president has declared a national disaster, with resources not always immediate or localized. Beyond local fire, police, and medical contacts, it might be appropriate for the librarian to establish a central hub for helping connect patrons with local authorities who have set up aid on:

  • How to recover important documents and ID
  • How to determine when and if it is safe to return home
  • How to get mail
  • Finding counseling services (beyond and including the school counselor)
  • Reconnecting with friends, neighbors, and family
  • Locating local churches, schools, and other community centers that set up extended relief (food, water, and other supplies)
  • Where to get language-translated information on important news and assistance
  • Finding lists of additional or longer-stay shelters, post-disaster (and helping students with mapping these)
  • For older students, disaster recovery temporary employment
  • Various online “how-to” tips

Research Specialist

Librarians may also wish to offer services that provide both in-house and online links to all the resources necessary for assistance and recovery. These can be done on site as a one-to-one “research counselor” or online through the school library website, where the entire school community may be able to access localized information.

Recovery Center: The Library as a Safe Haven

Never is there a more immediate need for providing a safe haven for students than post-disaster. Schools where libraries open as usual may consider the following assists:

  • Start a temporary Post-Disaster Book Club. Share biblio-therapeutic titles, recommended to help students work through emotions and/or to help them feel less alone.
  • For older students, offer a poetry-writing workshop.
  • Create and display motivational posters of inspirational quotes.
  • Rearrange library furniture and label a “reading recovery area.”
  • Display books and titles that provide comfort (for specific titles, see extended bibliography in “Books that Heal, Books that Help: Using Literature in Disaster Recovery” from Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery for the School Library: Creating a Safe Haven.)

The “Read” to Recovery

Particularly the very youngest students, the greatest fears they suffer, post-disaster, are:

  • That it will happen again
  • That they will be left alone
  • That they will be separated from their family

In elementary library classrooms particularly, bibliotherapy can help children through the recovery process. Children take comfort in hearing stories depicting:

  • Bravery, particularly children who show bravery
  • Characters who face disaster and resolve problems
  • Stories of recovering from specific and similar disasters
  • Brave animals, particularly pets
  • Reunification and reuniting with friends and family

Without dwelling too much on their recent experience, allow students time to reflect and respond to the story. Try to keep the focus on the story itself.


Many wonderful relief organizations offer suggestions for donations. Librarians may wish to serve as the donation warehouse, if only as an online donation-contact service. Librarians may be willing to post lists of that which has been donated, or connect donatees with needed donated items, and promote or post requests for donations needed, to the larger community, particularly beyond local needs.

The librarian’s mantra ~ providing patrons with educational, informational, and needed or desired reading material ~ comes in many forms. When disasters strike we often find strength we never knew we had, friends we thought were strangers, and resources that offer solace and much needed assistance. The school’s greatest resource might just be the school librarian.

Wish to Help?

Houston: The Greater Houston Community Foundation

At this writing, Florida’s storms still rage. Seek ways to donate for Irma and Jose through Charity Navigator at https://www.charitynavigator.org

Author: Christie Kaaland

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration


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