#MyLibraryMyStory: Strengthening Communities in Times of Crisis

National Library Week starts today in the US, and this year the American Library Association is asking people how their library makes their community stronger, using the hashtag #MyLibraryMyStory.

instagram-green-4

There are countless ways in which libraries, by providing access to information, knowledge, and culture on the community’s own terms, strengthen neighbourhoods, institutions, businesses, schools, towns, cities, states, and entire nations. But you never realise just how much a library strengthens your community until disaster strikes.

In Ferguson, Missouri, it was the library’s acclaimed response to a period of civil unrest which made headlines around the world. When local schools closed, Scott Bonner and his team made a safe space for children in the community – they even carried on their lessons, thanks to the efforts of teachers who volunteered their time.

In Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, the libraries made sterling efforts in the wake of a series of devastating earthquakes; more recently, the same city faced crisis once again after a horrific shooting, and once more, librarians found their spaces pressed into service, providing safety and refuge for the community.

When crisis strikes, organisations can sometimes flounder: unexpected threats can cause fuzzy thinking, emotional responses, or injudicious implementation of rehearsed responses to disaster. In the worst case scenarios, ill-considered efforts to mitigate or resolve a disaster can exacerbate the situation – most famously with the reactor incident at Three Mile Island.

Yet crises also offer possibilities to learn, adapt, and renew the institution’s mission and value for the community it serves. In the case of Ferguson, Christchurch, and many other communities facing different forms of crisis, libraries have demonstrated exactly how they make their communities stronger, even when “business as usual” has broken down.

That might mean offering storytimes to comfort the children of shocked and traumatised families.

Leaving wifi on in abandoned buildings to enable people to obtain information, or communicate with their loved ones.

Protecting valued heritage collections from the effects of disaster, or documenting and acquiring new materials to record the crisis itself for posterity.

Libraries have even been known to offer guides to others affected by a disaster in how to preserve or restore their damaged belongings, as the State Library of Queensland has done when floods strike their state.

As part of the #UKLibchat discussion on social media this month, we explored some of the ways in which libraries deal with disaster, risk, and impending crisis. You can see some highlights and further reading gathered in this Twitter moment.

When disaster strikes, a community’s resilience is tested. Libraries, as information institutions serving a wide range of needs in communities large and small, public and professional, general and specialised, are powerful actors offering safety, continuity, and comfort in the times of gravest crisis.

No library service seeks to be tested in the way those of cities like Christchurch and Ferguson have been, but in such moments, hidden aspects of libraries’ social role are made starkly manifest, offering lessons for us all.

That’s why #MyLibraryMyStory is dedicated to information professionals who have been tested by crisis, and who stood strong for their community.

The Librarians of Christchurch

The Tūranga central library in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand went into lockdown during the terror attacks which occurred in the city centre last Friday.

Librarians onsite looked after the visitors in their care, while the service’s social media team provided emergency communications, as they previously had during the earthquakes which struck the city in 2010 & 2011.

Exterior of Turanga Central Library, Christchurch, New Zealand

Image by Wikipedia user Isaacfreem – used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

A condolence book has been set up on the ground floor of Tūranga, so people can leave messages of support and sympathy for those affected by Friday’s mosque shootings.

Christchurch’s librarians have been tested by crises that no community should face, and proved themselves to be brave, compassionate, effective, and resolute. They are heroes of the information profession. Spare a thought for them this weekend.

Afterlives of Evidence: A Response from @katbhave

New Zealand-based librarian Kat Moody read my post on Afterlives of Evidence, archives, and grief last week. She offers this response, exploring military history, natural disasters, landscape and memory.

20180205_182124
Photograph by Kat Moody

Recently I had the opportunity at work to attend a course on character strengths run by the Mental Health Education Resource Centre. It’s great that these opportunities for healthcare professional development are being opened up to librarians. Last year I went to one of their courses on grief. This was an incredibly valuable session where I learnt a lot; one thing that stood out to me was that we don’t just grieve for people, we also grieve for places and things, particularly in times of change. Sometimes these aspects are inextricably linked.

Because I work in the centre of Christchurch, I am surrounded by sites of memory and sites of mourning. Read more

Marvellous Finale

It’s the final edition of Curious, Mysterious, Marvellous, Electrical today – the newsletter I’ve used to capture stories and secret histories from Australasia and beyond over the last two years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We started out by walking the coasts near Lisbon back in January 2016 and we finish the journey more or less where we began, exploring the history of one of Portugal’s most illustrious artistic families.

In the intervening years, highlights included:

And that’s not even including the drug counsellors, the Nazi hunting comedians, the dancer turned paramedic, the time travelling arts worker, or the Argentinian sisters running a horror-themed cake shop out on the tropic of Capricorn

…or the pastry.

Check out the complete Marvellous, Electrical on Google Maps.

LIANZA #Open2017 – Future Sound of Libraries / B-sides and rarities

This is the final part of a series on the LIANZA #Open17 library conference.

So you’ve seen how we planned a keynote where the main speaker keeps their mouth taped shut for nigh-on an hour. Seen what happened over the course of that hour. And even seen the consequences of the event.

This is the last post in this series setting out our process, so you can think about how to run such an activity, and push the boundaries even further than we did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In this entry I’m just going to focus on all the stuff which remained below the waterline – songs which didn’t make it to the final session, videos which inspired us but whose inspiration might not be very visible in the finished product. Read more

LIANZA #Open2017 – Future Sound of Libraries / The Process, pt. 3

This is part three of a series on the LIANZA #Open17 library conference, and my alternative keynote at that event. These blog posts should help you find ways to create your own participatory sessions, and to maximise their impact.

Last time, we went through everything that happened at the LIANZA Open 17 keynote, culminating in Rachael Rivera and Hamish Noonan’s excellent presentation on the services they have devised and delivered for homeless people in central Auckland. (You can read about their stupendous and internationally recognised work here).

I had approached Rachael to conclude the keynote so that it ended with a local voice and a speaker who was delivering practical front-line services to a New Zealand community. Rachael is a great example of a library branch manager whose teams are finding new and compelling ways to engage their community, from services for the homeless through to personalised one-to-one music sessions.

What happened next? How did this little library conference end up making national news in New Zealand? Read more

LIANZA #Open2017 – Future Sound of Libraries / The Process, pt. 2

This is part two of a series on the LIANZA #Open17 library conference, and my alternative keynote at that event. These blog posts should help you find ways to create your own participatory sessions.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 20.57.36.png

You can also watch a Youtube Playlist based on the LIANZA keynote here.

So, it’s the afternoon of Sunday 24th September, 2017, at the Addington Raceway in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand. Laurinda Thomas has just given an excellent talk about librarians’ professional identity and I’m invited to the stage.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and say a few words in te reo Māori.

Then this appears on the conference screens: Read more

LIANZA Conference 2017

I’m just leaving Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, after a fabulous few days with Kiwi librarians at their national conference LIANZA 2017.

There were workshops and a participatory, playful keynote, and other adventures besides. That keynote also made the national news.

More on all those things soon but for now, here’s a video with one or two highlights.

 

Library Island hits #nls8

My professional development roleplay Library Island visited the New Librarians Symposium at the National Library of Australia last weekend.

c2gd1k9usaa_j88

Librarians old and new joined forces to explore their work with communities in new, messy, and productive ways.

Going beyond the vogue for design thinking, the safe, fictional space of “Library Island” allowed us to engage with knotty questions of office politics, limited resources, managerial edicts, and library users who are sometimes airbrushed out of “future visions” – such as homeless people or those whose behaviour might be challenging to staff. Read more

Crisis and Consequence: On Libraries’ Response to the Christchurch Earthquakes

In 2010 and 2011, the city of Christchurch faced the most severe natural disasters in the history of New Zealand / Aotearoa. The librarians of “ChCh” responded to the crisis with flexibility, courage, and innovation.

I wrote about the Christchurch quakes and the response of Kiwi librarians for CILIP Update, the in-house journal of the UK librarians’ association, CILIP.

You can read a PDF copy of the article by clicking on the image below.

Crisis and Consequence by Matt Finch

You can also check out my previous Update article, “Pushing the limits: play, explore, experiment”, as a PDF download.