Library Disaster Practice

by Victoria Schmitz  U of I Collections Care Graduate Assistant

A library’s tabletop disaster scenario is a meeting of the library’s disaster team with the goal to talk through an imaginary disaster that could happen at the library.  The disaster team features folks from the library’s facilities department, human resources and business, IT, preservation and conservation, and more.  The goal of a tabletop exercise is to allow team members to become familiar with the library’s disaster plan and their roles, and to identify potential challenges and gaps in our emergency response.

Our disaster scenario featured a pipe bursting in the ceiling above a reading room, onto multiple rows of shelves.  The scenario’s destruction was about 3,000 water damaged books, which is a relatively minor disaster for our library (or so I’ve been told).

My fellow graduate assistant for Conservation, Nani Hodges, and I were the ones to plan out the disaster training scenario.  This was our first ever tabletop disaster scenario.  We meet up to work on the scenario anywhere from 1-4 hours per week for two months.  While the planning was a bit stressful, especially since we did not have any prior personal experience to go off of, the actual day of the scenario felt like a breeze for us.  All we had to do was offer up the prompts and make sure the discussion wasn’t going over the allotted time.

The disaster scenario tabletop proved to be both a good exercise after a 2+ year gap of no disaster practice and a good way to meet new colleagues that had joined the team.  For me, it was a great experience to learn about the other branches of a library (outside of Preservation Services) that I don’t get to see often and how in depth their parts would be in a disaster.

Things to consider when writing your disaster response manual, reviewing your existing manual, and training with your manual.

Additional Resources:

“What is a Tabletop Exercise?” COSTEP MA, 31 July 2020, 

“Exercises.”, 12 October, 2021, 

Tips from a Collections Care Student Employee

by Naja Morris U of I Preservation Unit Grad Hourly

I always wish someone would give a guidebook or cheat sheet on what to expect from life. There are things that people give you a heads up like fix a broken toilet or what to do when you get a flat tire. There are also a few things that no one could have prepared me for, like how to juggle writing two research papers at the same time or how to cope when the grocery store stops carrying my favorite ice cream. One of the great things when applying for a position is the fact that the job announcement neatly lists the expected duties you’re going to have to do if you get said job. It’s a little comforting so, you’re not going in blind on your first day on the job. As with most things in life there can be unexpected things that can arise once you’re in the position. For people interested in working in preservation, I thought I share a few tidbits that you’ll come across if you decided to seek a job in the field:

  1. Don’t wear white or any type of light clothing if you’re handling books with red rot. Red rot does stain and can get everywhere, by the end of the work day you’ll look like you rolled around in clay.
  2. If your job in preservation deals with integrated pest management, or IPM, get comfortable with bugs and be prepared to know their scientific name. Did you know the Latin name from a carpet beetle? Fun fact it’s Allagenus unicolor.
  3. Preparing for the worst is a part of the job. Terms like disaster planning, flooding, air drying books, and dehumidifier will become a familiar part of your vocabulary. It may seem overwhelming at first thinking of all things that can go wrong, but nothing can beat being prepared.

These are just practices or little things that I have picked up in my time working in Preservation Services. Hopefully these tips will give people a clear picture of what it is like to in a collections care position.

Preservation Week 2022
Example of Red Rot at the U of I.