Pioneer Library System is Trailblazer for Community in Need

Pioneer Library System
Norman, OK
Population: 359,700
Director: Anne Masters

“The emergency government resources online portal we created was used by other libraries in the state and also the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.”
 
- Anne Masters, Director, Pioneer Library System

 

After a natural disaster strikes, communities can be left helpless with no resources, guidance, or ability to connect, leading to a sense of isolation. Luckily for residents that live in the three counties served by Pioneer Library System (PLS), the library led the community through the aftermath of a destructive tornado.

In addition to the more immediate needs such as supplies and shelter that the library coordinated, the residents turned to the library as an access point for government resources and guidance on how to use them. Edge benchmarks provide guidance on which online resources should be available to residents, including access to eGovernment resources, to best meet community needs.

eGovernment resources are defined by Edge as “digital resources pertaining to local, state, and federal government that can usually be found online or downloaded from the internet.”

“Through our administrative offices, we created a portal for online government resources and the official websites to go to for these resources,” said Anne Masters, Director for PLS.

For the residents within the PLS service area that were affected by the deadly tornado,  eGovernment resources they needed access to include those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

“We had groups from across the country come in – including FEMA, the Red Cross, and other agencies – to lead group instruction, helping customers navigate the eGovernment resources and also the insurance process,” said Deputy Director Lisa Wells. 

Although representatives from government agencies were on site within two days, it was the library team that often served as the frontline staff assisting patrons with navigating the resources and procedures. 

According to Adri Edwards-Johnson, Strategy and Innovation Officer for PLS, the goal of the library’s online resource portal was to “cut through the noise” of some of the third party websites. 

“There were a lot of third party organizations with good intentions trying to help people, but really they were just creating more noise,” she said. “I think our information literacy skills helped us create this landing page, allowing people to go directly where they needed to go without any third party intervention.”

Patrons were not the only ones that felt the wrath of this deadly tornado. According to Masters, 19 staff members were also directly affected. 

“When the tornado hit, I was about 10 minutes in front of it. When I got home, I was on social media and saw people were concerned about their friends and family that had been at the library,” said Edwards-Johnson. “I was on twitter with the son of a librarian from Moore because he wanted to know where his mom was. I was actively on social media until we got an all clear and were told that all staff had been accounted for.”

Other staff were not so lucky.

“We had one staff member that was making a school visit to Moore where the tornado hit. She was in the restroom with the children protecting them during the storm,” said Masters. “When she went outside, she learned that her car had been carried more than five miles away from where she parked it.”

Regional Coordinator and Moore Branch Manager Aiden Street lost her home as a result of the tornado. Despite the havoc she faced in her personal life, she remained committed to supporting the library and the staff.

“Many staff were impacted by the loss of homes, cars, personal possessions, and pets,” she said. “I set up times for the local employee assistance program to come and out and speak to the staff and for another nonprofit that provides disaster related counseling. Vicarious stress of helping so many who had experienced such loss was very high, but self-care was important for staff too.”

The library also used this tragedy as a learning experience, looking at things they had done correctly and things that could be improved.

“As far as infrastructure, services and our portal to government information is safe because it is hosted in a cloud somewhere offsite where the disaster did not occur,” said Edwards-Johnson. Having a plan for service continuity is another key element of the Edge Assessment, which is covered by Benchmark 7.

While effectively managing infrastructure is important, it is more important to effectively manage staff. PLS used this experience as an entry point for improving overall organizational management.

“After this, we really took a look at the tools that were available to us. Our virtual library implemented text messaging notifications for staff because there were a lot of staff that we didn’t hear from for many hours,” said Wells. “We didn’t know how they were or where they were, so we changed a lot of processes internally, letting us communicate with our staff if there is another situation like this.”

PLS also used this experience when introducing its first Maker Mobile. The Maker Mobile has many features, but most important to disaster preparedness is the ability to provide Wi-Fi to remote, rural areas.

“When we looked at mobile hotspot capacity for the Maker Mobile, we knew we wanted the best,” said Wells. “What we have on the Maker Mobile now is something called bonded connectivity -- so it provides a stronger Wi-Fi connection in the rural areas by bonding the signals. We have laptops that go along with it, so we can better serve our customers if another situation like this occurs.”

Pioneer Library System has taken the Edge Assessment twice, seeing an improvement in the Assessment Results. Specifically there is an increase with staff helping patrons with technology and eGovernment resources, another possible outcome from the way the library handled the aftermath of the tornado. 

“We noted from the results of our first Edge Assessment that we needed to make an effort to offer training in accessing government resources,” said Masters. “The use of government websites in our libraries is huge – local government, state government, and national government resources.”

To learn more about Edge, visit http://www.libraryedge.org