Law Libraries and Disaster Assistance
Monday, May 2oth was one of the scariest days I have experienced. Oklahoma, on its third day of violent and severe weather, experienced an extremely violent and destructive tornado, one of the worst on record. No one in our library suffered any direct damage, but many of our friends and family members did. Monday evening was a long night waiting for news from those in or near the tornadoes path and those traveling through the destruction just to get home. I checked my phone, Facebook, and every other media outlet for word from my co-workers, friends, and family. (Greg Lambert wrote a wonderful about the myriad of emotions felt during and after the May 3rd, 1999 Tornado and its parallels to Monday’s events.)
Tuesday morning came and several of our co-workers could not get to the library because of road closures. For those of us who came in, we had to carry on business as usual. Everything felt so inconsequential compared to the loss so many had suffered over the last few days (several tornadoes damaged small towns across the state on Sunday).
I began to wonder what our library could do to help. Then on Wednesday the Oklahoma Bar Association Disaster Relief Committee put out a call for volunteers to assist victims with legal needs. I contemplated signing up, but I have not practiced much in the last few years and did not want to give bad advice to people in a very desperate situation. I thought about offering my services to do research or prepare handouts, but was not sure where to really begin. Before I had a chance to reach out to the committee, they reached out to the law school. In the discussions our director presented the idea of having our law student reference assistants help prepare an informational guide for the lawyers to consult when assisting victims. This could be done through a LibGuide that the committee members could access while working with people who came in for assistance.
Working with the local bar on this type of resource is a way for us to use our unique skill set and expertise to help our community. We have really just started and I don’t have anything to share yet, but I am glad our library can be a part of this important work. Libraries as community and information centers are primed for this sort of task.
I know many other law libraries have reached out to their communities during disasters. How has your library reached out to your community or worked with the local bar?