A half dozen Iowans who’ve led their public libraries through disasters will be featured in an online discussion tomorrow morning.

“The hope is that people watching or listening to the webinar can learn from our disasters instead of having to have their own before they learn those lessons,” says Cedar Rapids Public Library director Dara Schmidt, who’ll be one of the panelists.

Like the city it serves, the Cedar Rapids Public Library has had a recent run of emergencies, starting with flooding in 2016.

“(That flood) was smaller than predicted and so we ended up not sustaining damage even though we were closed because we were in the inundation zone and then we had, just like everybody else, the pandemic and then the derecho,” Schmidt says, “and then a couple of months ago we had a fire.”

The fire started in late July in a large light fixture in the lobby of the library in downtown Cedar Rapids. The 200 people inside the library were safely evacuated and the fire was doused in a matter of minutes, but the library was closed for a month — to deal with smoke damage. Schmidt says given that history, she and her staff have developed plans that not only focus on responding the moment a disaster might strike, but how to restore services as quickly as possible.

“With everything that we’ve been through, what we understand is out community needs us and in times of great challenge our community needs us even more,” Schmidt says. “…Maybe our building does have to close, but how can we continue to provide service, even when those terrible things are happening to us?”

For example, Schmidt says this summer the library set up a computer lab in a vacant space across the street from the temporarily closed downtown library. Librarians from Bettendorf, Clinton, Marion, Sioux City and West Des Moines will join Schmidt in tomorrow’s panel discussion about disaster planning.

Radio Iowa