May 19, 2011

Primary Source
Vol 13, No. 4; May 2011

IMLS Director Susan HildrethRecently, terrible storms hit the southeast region of the country bringing tragic and heartbreaking loss of life. The storms also left many buildings, homes and even libraries destroyed and in need of major repair. As people rebuild their lives in the wake of the storms and devastation, libraries are there providing support with Internet access that allows continued connectivity to important online services including insurance, banking and communicating with loved ones across the country to let them know they are safe.

There are many examples from natural disasters and specifically Hurricane Katrina that support the need to consider libraries as an essential community service.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently established new regulations in Section 403 of the Stafford Act qualifying libraries, along with police, fire protection/emergency services, medical care, education and utilities, as essential community services. The change helps libraries in need to relocate so they can keep serving the public in the wake of a disaster, flood or other emergency.

This month we spoke with Lecia Eubanks of the Cherokee Regional Library System in Georgia, who shared the story of how the Dade County Public Library experienced structural and water damage from the recent series of tornadoes. She described how the storms took off the roof of the building where the library was temporarily housed and how water flows severely damaged some of their collections and furnishings. Most of the adult collections were spared, however their children's and genealogy collections were damaged.

"With computers donated from the Southwest Georgia Regional Library System we are providing much needed but very limited internet access at the Dade County Chamber of Commerce," said Eubanks. However, Ms. Eubanks notes that there is demand for books, homework assistance and many other children's services. She has been in touch with FEMA and GEMA (the Georgia Emergency Management Agency) and notes, "I'm happy to report that the library has qualified as an essential community service and I feel confident that FEMA will provide financial resources to support a temporary location for the library once we identify a space."

Ms. Eubanks talked about how intense it was to be "at the table" with police, fire and emergency services. While the issues of health and safety are of utmost concern, to truly bring about the community's recovery it was important to assert the role of libraries. "I've always supported libraries as an essential community service, but this situation has indeed brought that to the forefront," said Eubanks.

In communities throughout the nation, the local library plays an essential role in providing services that are necessary in everyday life. Libraries serve as trusted community resources helping people find work, get an education, start new businesses, use technology, and obtain health information and government services. There is a very short list of services that are identified as essential, but I am glad that libraries are now acknowledged as one of those essential community services.

—Susan Hildreth, Director, IMLS

IMLS Press Contacts
Natasha Marstiller,
Mamie Bittner,

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit