Hold the space for recovery

The library’s role as a meeting place and community space may take on additional importance in the aftermath of a disaster.

During recent wildfires, power shutoffs and snowstorms, libraries throughout Northern California have provided a safe haven for residents who are not able to return home.

Following the 2019 Kincade Fire, which saw nearly 190,000 residents affected by evacuation orders, Sonoma County Library opened their doors to thousands of displaced residents. Drawing on previous experiences with wildfires in 2017 and community-wide power shutoffs aimed at preventing wildfires in 2018, library staff knew that patrons would be eager to access library facilities.

“People just need some sense of normal,” said library director Ann Hammond. “If they can come to the library, charge their devices, play a board game and talk to their neighbors, that’s a service right there. We don’t always have to do something extraordinary, above and beyond that.”

“People want refuge and to get away. If it’s safe to open the library, we can provide that” Danis Kreimeier, retired director of the Napa County Library

Since the fire, Sonoma County Library has continued to assist with recovery efforts and promote countywide disaster preparedness. The library’s role as meeting place has also proved to be equally important.

In Butte County, following the 2018 Camp Fire, the library provided space for displaced residents, as well as schools and community groups.

“In the first days of the disaster, the library played some afternoon movies and put out some games and coloring for families,” said Kathy Brazil, library assistant at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library. “Displaced teachers, parents and students met in the children’s room. A displaced book club, homeowners’ association and an art club reserved our library meeting room to continue to have a place for their meetings.”

Libraries throughout the NLS region are also increasingly serving as designated “community resource centers” during power shutoffs, and cooling or warming centers during inclement weather.

“People want refuge and to get away,” said Danis Kreimeier, retired director of the Napa County Library. “If it’s safe to open the library, we can provide that.”

To help support recovery, libraries can:

  • Reach out to the members of local groups who may need a place to gather

  • Provide learning spaces for students, parents and teachers who may be displaced

  • Offer library meeting rooms for disaster recovery purposes, such as city or county business, disaster assistance or counseling