Weathering Library Storms
“Oh, we’re so glad you’re here!” exclaimed the weekend librarians as I walked in the library, dripping wet, on my day off. I should have run. At that moment, the city manager made the call to close the library, but the waters rose so quickly that no one could get out of the parking lot. The police called and told us to prevent people from leaving. We immediately started making announcements about the vehicles that were in danger of flooding, and people in the building re-parked their vehicles. A minivan sitting at the library entrance was flooded almost to the roof, and we contacted 911 to let them know that we did not know for certain that the three occupants had escaped; fortunately they had.
Approximately four feet of water covered the roadways, the front park, and a large portion of the parking lot for several hours. We popped popcorn, brewed coffee and tea, and started a movie in the meeting room to help the families with young children keep them occupied. Some people were cold and/or wet, and we pulled blankets that a few of us had, plus table cloths to keep them warm. The 25 patrons began to get very hungry around dinner time (especially the children), so we gathered all the food we could find (mostly diet frozen dinners), popped all the popcorn, made announcements, and got them fed.
Five teens were in the library without parents, and apparently one of the parents was calling the media in a panic. When News Channel 5 called, we reassured parents that everyone was safe and had food and that no one should risk his/her safety to get here. One employee got the job of discreetly ensuring that the dating teens did not create future teens at the library. The police department worked out an emergency medical evacuation plan that we fortunately never had to use; there would have been two emergencies if I'd had to carry someone over a hill.
During the lockdown, we had 25 patrons and 9 staff members in the library. The parents of the young children all sat with them and watched the two movies, and no child or teen was unattended. It appeared that we might have to sleep at the library, so we took an inventory of the people present, including age, gender, and if they were here alone or with others. We had planned safe sleeping arrangements for everyone, including shifts of two staff members awake at all times to monitor the situation and locked offices and study rooms for unaccompanied females and minors. The calmness of the staff members rubbed off on even the youngest children.
This scenario reminded me again of how important employee resilience can be during an emergency and during times of change. According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Resilient people get the good jobs because they come through during emergencies, do not let their life circumstances dictate their performance, and show up to the game ready to play, even in the rain, the lightning, or the sandstorm of change. Resilient people champion the RFID tagging projects, the ILS upgrades, and the mayor’s decision to host voting in the library during a major construction project.
So how can we develop resilience? The American Psychological Association has identified some key ways to build resilience:
• maintain good relationships with close family members, friends, and others
• avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems
• accept circumstances that cannot be changed
• develop realistic goals and move toward them
• take decisive actions in adverse situations
• look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss
• develop self-confidence
• keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context
• maintain a hopeful outlook, expect good things, and visualize what is wished
• engage in relaxing activities
All these steps require work, and some may require outside help or a departure from inherited behavior. Some of it comes with age and experience. In a tough job market and a tougher economy, though, we could all use an extra measure of resilience.
Ann Clapp is Head of Reference & Acquisition at The Brentwood Library, Brentwood, Tennessee and is the co-chair (with Beverly Simmons) of TLA’s Staff Development Committee. Before coming to libraries, she served as a district manager for a retail bookstore chain. Interested in free library training materials? Please visit the Library Skillbuilders website at http://sites.google.com/site/libraryskillbuilders/.