Provide services during a disaster

Safety concerns, staff capacity and community needs should all be considered when determining how to provide services during a disaster. If conditions permit, programs may be offered at alternate locations or moved online.

Kids have one last visit with Placer County's retiring bookmobile. A library's bookmobile can be a major asset during a disaster, allowing staff and volunteers to provide programming anywhere in the community.

As libraries have responded to COVID-19, they are also finding new and creative ways to deliver services. Storytimes are being streamed via Facebook and YouTube. Book clubs are meeting on Zoom. And digital library services, such as online homework help, are taking on a new importance. *For additional examples and resources related to COVID-19, visit our pandemic resource page.


The following are a few ways of the ways that NLS libraries have provided services during recent disasters:


Support Internet Connectivity

If libraries are closed due to a disaster, they can still provide internet access through branch WiFi services and WiFi hotspots. These services are crucial for residents who lack internet access at home. In rural communities, such as those served by the Siskiyou County Library, patrons are able to access WiFi by sitting in front of the library or parking outside.


Libraries are also increasingly checking out WiFi hotspots that allow patrons to access wireless LTE services on the go. These portable devices can help students complete assignments from home or allow people to stay connected to family and friends even if they are evacuated.


The Sonoma County Library also checks out ChromeKits, a Chromebook laptop paired with a WiFi hotspot. During COVID-19, libraries in Butte and Sonoma counties have also been informing residents about discounted internet services and free WiFi maps.


Move Programs Online

While some libraries have previously offered online storytimes during wildfires, libraries throughout the NorthNet region have embraced virtual storytimes during COVID-19.

Streaming via platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, children’s librarians are offering the same educational, enriching programming online that helps bring so many families to the library.

Staff from Solano County Library, Mendocino County Library and the Sacramento Public Library lead digital storytimes during COVID-19.

At the Butte County Library, storytimes streamed live via the library’s Facebook page have generated considerable interest, drawing 5-10 times the number of viewers as the library would expect for an in-person program.


At the Sacramento Public Library and Tehama County Library, community groups that previously met at library branches have also moved their meetings online. Weekly Zoom sessions for fiber arts groups, book clubs and conversation clubs provide a way for patrons to continue connecting and building community, even when the library is physically closed.


Use Alternate Locations

If large scale evacuations are not required, libraries may also be able to deliver library programming where people are. During recent disasters, NorthNet libraries have provided services by:

  • Holding storytimes and programs at unaffected library branches or other locations, such as community centers, agency offices or disaster recovery centers

  • Deploying the bookmobile to support displaced residents

  • Providing books and “activity boxes” to organizations supporting disaster response efforts

  • Coordinating services with libraries from neighboring counties

Promote Online Services

Libraries have also promoted resources and services via the library’s website, including:

  • E-library services (ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, etc.)

  • Education and e-learning tools, such as online homework help

  • Resources for families, businesses and those affected by a disaster

Eliminate Barriers to Service

If your library facilities are closed for an unforeseeable amount of time, Mark Fink, Yolo County Librarian, recommends taking the following actions to remove barriers for patrons and increase access to library materials:

  • Waive existing overdue fines and fees for patrons

  • If your library uses a collection agency, temporarily suspend collection activity

  • Extend due dates for all borrowed items

  • Add an online library card registration tool to your website

  • Add an automatic renewal feature to your ILS so late fees do not accrue on patron accounts

  • Allow patrons to pay fees and fines online with credit/debit cards

  • If possible, reallocate collection funds to support your digital resources so patrons have 24/7 access to some library material

Tools & Resources

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This project was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

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