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,