The Librarian’s Mission post-COVID 19

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

April 07, 2020

Our primary mission as information professionals, librarians, and archivists is to disseminate information. No matter the time, the activity, or the distance, our focus must remain on our mission, to locate and disseminate information, especially during a disaster or a pandemic.

As information professionals working remotely, servicing clients and organizations, we develop new skills, improved communication methods, and enhanced working routines.

Now’s the time to prepare for resuming “normal” activities. When this crisis passes and the administrators in our institutions begin to phase in work once again, information professionals must be included in that migration back to normal.

The Big Picture: Embracing Change

Right now, we are in the middle of a disaster, one that’s affected not only our own institutions, but all those around us. This is one of the biggest “Wide Area” disasters we’ve coped with in decades.

When we plan for disasters, we focus on localized disruptions to service—localized dislocation. Most of us never, ever, planned such a large scale shift in work, location, and services occurring as quickly as this dislocation was imposed upon information centers, institutions, and almost every business.

We are in the midst of a rather long Disaster Response phase where we work remotely and provide as much information as possible in a streamlined manner. We must incorporate new routines for handling information requests, including efficient and effective delivery of information via e-mail, text, and other digital forms of communication. Requests for information are streaming into information centers through chat programs and e-mail, while conferences and meetings have shifted to video platforms.

As part of disaster response planning, we develop strategies for working and shifting resources to remote locations. In this instance, that means working from home.

These changes to routine aren’t going away—they are going to improve, streamline, and become our new modes of work. As such, we must begin to revise our disaster response plans.

It is essential that we take a few minutes each week to:

  • document these changes in work routines,
  • evaluate what routines are effective and efficient, 
  • consider how to improve information retrieval from remote locations, and
  • document how information was disseminated.

As you think ahead, documentation of new remote working routines will become part of any new Disaster Response Plan.

Recovery: Getting back to Normal

Fortunately, as information professionals, we’ve thought about (and planned for) disasters and strategized about recovery and resumption of services. That means we need to be part of the shift back into physical offices and operations when it is safe to return. Information professionals as integral members of any organization need to be visible and accessible to all who need information.

In conjunction with corporate planning teams, implement resumption of information retrieval services at your organization’s corporate headquarters, providing data as needed.

Recovery under any disaster response plan is part of the long road to returning to normal. Along the way, we’ll discover that many of our routines are streamlined and more efficient.

During the Recovery phase, as the crisis abates, it is essential that the information center be included in the reconstituted physically co-located organization. Compile evidence that demonstrates how information professionals compile research materials, answer queries, and provide critical decision-making information, all in a timely manner. Document how:

  • The information center is necessary for dissemination of documentation and collection of data.
  • Information professionals in conjunction with other departments are proactively collecting and redistributing information about:
  • the state of the organization,
  • resumption of services such as the reopening of museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions.
  • availability of government programs, grants, and funding, and
  • rollout of delayed products
  • Continue information gathering activities surrounding corporate intelligence, ROI, and the health and sustainability of the organization’s economic sector.

The information center is a critical component of customer service within an organization. Prepackaging information for distribution and dissemination is key to getting the institution back up and running efficiently.

Summing it up

The Disaster Response and Recovery periods are an opportunity to evaluate the organization’s response to the disaster. 

  • How did working remotely affect customer base?
  • What types of e-mail and press-releases were most effective?
  • How could interaction between employees and the information center be improved and streamlined?
  • What types of services should be retained, what changed?

Consider these questions as you revise your plan for the next disaster. It’s never a matter of if, but when the next disaster will strike.

Tara Murray, SLA 2020 President says, “SLA is doing its part to support library and information professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing educational resources and tools that facilitate networking and information sharing. SLA calls on all employers to support librarians and information professionals by recognizing their value, retaining them as employees and including them in post-pandemic plans.” Here’s a link to the 26 March 2020 press release 

If you haven’t compiled a disaster response plan, now’s the time to put your current knowledge and activities into a written form. For guidance, see SLA’s Disaster Response pages 

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills and strategies for special librarians. **Refresh your knowledge of Lucidea’s flagship ILS, SydneyEnterprise, here.


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