Welcome Message: Disaster Information Outreach Symposium (2011): ARCHIVE

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March, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Following the devastation on the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures in New Orleans, many took a renewed interest in disaster preparedness and response. In 2006, one year after Katrina, National Library of Medicine (NLM) advisors recommended in the NLM Long-Range Plan that the library increase its efforts in disaster information and informatics by establishing a Disaster Information Management Research Center. Dr. Steven Phillips was asked to start the Center and quickly assembled a staff and began projects to increase NLM disaster-related activities. The new Center continues NLM’s long history of providing health information related to disasters such as Hurricane Mitch (1998), the Bhopal chemical accident (1984), and the Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, volcanic eruption (1991). NLM also supports the Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and the Caribbean and has funded research on disaster response informatics.

Dr. Phillips believes that medical librarians experienced in providing medical information to health professionals and the public could also use those skills to provide disaster literature and information resources for health professionals, the public, and all professions working in emergency and disaster management. He coined the term “disaster information specialist” and encouraged librarians to think of roles they could play in meeting information needs during disaster preparedness, response and recovery. In 2008, several academic and hospital libraries were given funds to experiment with roles libraries and librarians could play as part of the Disaster Information Specialist Pilot Project. The pilot grew into a program of activities supporting the efforts of librarians to increase their own knowledge of disaster topics and provide disaster information where needed. The program offers a regular news round-up, a listserv for 600+ subscribers, monthly conference calls with guest speakers, events at national library association meetings and funding for the Medical Library Association to develop coursework on disaster topics.

The Disaster Information Specialist Program offers “Support for librarians providing disaster information outreach to their communities.” What does this mean?

The program supports librarians by providing the online resources and access to the Disaster Center’s expertise that increase their ability to meet demands.

The program is for all librarians and information professionals regardless of work setting or audience. University, hospital, corporate, medical, public, law, school, media, government and any other types of libraries can all be part of promoting disaster preparedness and response.

Disaster information broadly describes all the sources and types of information that are needed for effective planning, situational awareness, management of and recovery from man-made or natural disasters and public health emergencies. Disaster information comes from widely diverse sources ranging from peer-reviewed journal articles and detailed government response plans to the latest postings on Twitter, Facebook or news media web sites.

Library outreach takes many forms. A public library may plan to have emergency backup capacity to provide Internet access and a place for the community to reach family or agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross after a hurricane. A school library may provide age-appropriate materials to help students understand a major oil spill that may impact a community’s well-being and livelihood. A medical library may provide a disaster team going to another country with materials relevant to the cultures, languages, and health needs they will encounter.

Every library has a unique community to which it can provide disaster information outreach. For a hospital library, for example, the “community” might be the hospital emergency planning group. A local government library might support its “community” of emergency responders and public health planners. A public library’s “community” would be the actual local community that may need its resources to bolster disaster recovery. Ultimately, the community is all of us who benefit from disaster professionals and volunteers who know and use the best sources for informed decision-making and crisis management.

The Disaster Information Outreach Symposium brings together and celebrates all facets of librarians’ and libraries’ efforts to be forward-leaning in offering information services related to disasters. It is both a culmination of three years of effort in building the new Disaster Information Management Research Center and its projects as well as an opportunity for NLM and symposium participants to consider next steps.

This symposium is a direct outcome of the vision of Dr. Donald Lindberg, NLM Director, and Dr. Phillips, Associate Director of NLM, who strongly advocate that librarians and libraries have a role to play in providing information outreach that improves disaster and public health emergency outcomes. Many thanks also to Gale Dutcher, Deputy Director of Specialized Information Services Division, and Stacey Arnesen, Head of the Office of the Disaster Information Management Research Center for their unwavering support of this event.

I hope the symposium will be an education and inspiration to all.


Cindy Love

Cindy Love
Symposium Chair
Disaster Information Management Research Center
Specialized Information Services Division
National Library of Medicine
Bethesda, MD