To care for Birmingham’s Treasures,
Library Plans for the Worst
April 20, 2007, Birmingham—Birmingham Public Library staff will participate in disaster preparedness training on May 9, using the recently-vacated West End Library for a real-to-life rehearsal.
Fifty staff members from all departments of the central and four regional libraries will arrive to their makeshift offices that morning as if they had arrived at the scene of a disaster. From there, they will be trained on how to communicate with staff members and patrons, salvage collections, and identify potential hazards during or after a disaster.
BPL has hired a consultant from the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET), an Atlanta-based organization that provides training—from disaster preparedness to grant writing—to encourage Southeastern libraries to be among the best in the country.
The Birmingham Public Library is proactive in preparing for disasters, making it part of only 20% of collecting institutions nationwide that have an emergency plan with staff trained to respond appropriately. This number comes from a study conducted by Heritage Preservation, a national nonprofit group that advocates for the country’s collecting institutions—libraries, archives, and museums.
According to the three-year study, Heritage Preservation found that American institutions hold more than 4.8 billion artifacts—including 1.7 billion rare and unique books, periodicals, and scrapbooks; 700 million photographs; and 48 million historic objects—yet less than 30% of these institutions have staff who are trained in case their collections are harmed. The Birmingham Public Library holds—in addition to nearly 900,000 books, CDs and DVDs—several million historic documents, more than 400,000 photographs, nearly 10,000 rare books, and 4,000 maps. “Many of our materials are irreplaceable,” said Yvonne Crumpler, Head of the Southern History Department. “They are books and documents that have been cherished by Birmingham residents for decades.”
The study concluded that, in order for Americans to preserve their collections for future generations, institutions must provide safe conditions for their collections, develop an emergency plan, and assign responsibility for collections care to staff members. The Birmingham Public Library has an ongoing commitment to protect Birmingham’s treasures by focusing to all three of these objectives.