Myhrvold comments that we live in an age where food is abundant and that a lack of access is caused by systems and mechanisms that create barriers. This is equally true of information. We often hear that we live in the Information Age due to the increase in access to technology that can improve access to information. New means of sharing, obtaining, and packaging information are available every day...but not to everyone. Rather than refined cuisine, he could be referring to the high cost of technology that causes information to "stay(s) in this funny place where the elite practitioners of the very highest forms remain really expensive".
Although "we" live in an Information Age, there are huge disparities in many communities that cause barriers: small library and community budgets and staffs, limited access to the internet and computers or other devices, and a lack of both information literacy and technology proficiency, to name a few. This isn't an earth shatteringly profound concept, of course, but it does have a profound effect on those who experience information inequality. Those of us in the various library and information science professions are constantly trying to improve that situation.
During a disaster, access to information can make all the difference. It can mean expedited delivery of medical care, food and water. It can reunite families, friends, and pets. Actionable information can lead to someone making effective decisions that improve others' and their own health, both physically and mentally. And information can provide peace of mind, direction, and expedited recovery to individuals and entire communities. Shared information prior to a disaster can help mitigate risks and improve response and recovery--and survival. In short, information is as important as food.
I've seen this firsthand as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the U.S. Army, as an emergency preparedness manager at a healthcare system in post-9/11 Northern New Jersey, and as a trainer at the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center. As I mentioned in my first post, my experiences led me to studying information science so that I can understand better how to package and deliver information, especially during crises.
My goal is to determine recommendations for outreach to libraries in Massachusetts so that they can more effectively access and utilize the manifold resources of the National Library of Medicine, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and other governmental agencies. These resources can help provide librarians and their patrons information about myriad disaster related issues. The depth and breadth of the instruments and sites are awesome in the true meaning of the word. They range from library emergency preparedness plans to access to health information apps and databases with reliability and usability that far exceeds searching keywords online.
This project is not needed because librarians do not know how to access information or because people cannot conduct an internet search. The impetus for this project is a need to leverage existing resources to address several needs, including: 1) libraries want to efficiently provide information to as many patrons as possible, both on a daily basis and during disasters, 2) librarians fill various atypical roles during crises, including helping patrons fill out FEMA forms and displaced people find shelter and work, and 3) barriers affect how libraries and individuals access this information, whether before or during a disaster.
The barrier to a means of access can exist because of a disaster: weather or terrorism related incidents can knock out power and access to the internet. Health incidents, such as a pandemic, or manmade incidents can restrict access to a library. Crises can cause an overload of needs coupled with a shortfall in staffing and other resources. Barriers can also be psychological: information is more difficult to find and synthesize when a crisis causes overwhelming stress.
My project will focus on mitigating barriers that exist prior to a disaster, such as a lack of access to high-speed wifi or insufficient time and personnel to develop and deliver training. To do so, I must avoid being what Chef Myhrvold terms "super well-meaning but naive". My experiences, biases and assumptions can easily get in the way of identifying the most relevant and effective strategies. Like the chef who wants everyone "to have farm-to-table and home cooked meals", I need to consider and respect the needs, abilities, preferences, and limitations of the libraries in the Massachusetts Library System.
And so I am conducting interviews to learn more about the preparedness efforts and best practices. I'm conducting a thorough literature review to identify relevant research. I drafted a survey which was reviewed and critiqued by the NN/LM National Evaluation Office. This survey will be sent to all libraries in the Massachusetts Library System to assess the levels of preparedness, awareness and interest and preferred means of outreach delivery. Through this survey, I will identify three or more organizations and their corresponding emergency management agencies with whom I will collaborate to determine specific training recommendations.
As Myhrvold says, "let's look at what people really want".
A third year MLIS student conducting fieldwork with NLM, NN/LM NER, and Massachusetts Libraries.