A group of University of Iowa faculty is helping strengthen the ability of public libraries to serve everyone in their communities, including those who need resources most.
The “Public Libraries for Disaster Resilience: Assessing Libraries’ Community Impacts in Times of Climate and Socio-Economic Crises” project will assess the effects of public libraries on community resilience across the country and increase their ability to meet patrons’ needs, especially those who struggle most with economic hardships, extreme climate events, and accessing resources.
“We hope to tell the story of the value public libraries offer their communities,” says Kara Logsden, professor in the School of Library and Information Science and co-principal investigator on the project. “We want to give librarians the tools they need to quantify their work, tell the story about the difference they make in their communities, and provide training so librarians can help build resilience as a part of serving their communities. We also want to provide library staff with effective tools to support their work and their personal resilience.”
The project, which received $150,000 in funding as one of the five initial grant recipients from the UI’s Jumpstarting Tomorrow P3 initiative, was most recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The Jumpstarting Tomorrow seed grant program, administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research, provided grants to multidisciplinary projects that had the potential to establish or grow areas of research excellence at the university.
“We appreciated the Jumpstarting Tomorrow funds because we would not have formed our interdisciplinary team without the financial support from the university,” says Iulian Vamanu, associate professor in the School of Library and Information Science and principal investigator on the new grant. “Looking at an issue from multiple perspectives and leaning into everyone’s expertise means we can look at the research questions from many angles. The team conversations are very interesting and critical for advancing the research and scholarship.”
Lucie Laurian, a former UI professor and previous director of the School of Planning and Public Affairs, initially began the project and reached out to others to include multiple perspectives in the process. In addition to Logsden and Vamanu, the current team includes Megan Gilster, associate professor in the School of Social Work; Jennifer Glanville, professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology; Phuong Nguyen, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the School of Planning and Public Affairs; Haifeng Qian, director and associate professor in the School of Planning and Public Affairs; and Kang Zhao, associate professor of business analytics.
The team has also worked with 16 librarians in eastern Iowa to learn more about the needs of community members and library staff.
“The librarians talked about how libraries are places where people come not only for collections and resources, but also for services and getting connected with community resources,” Logsden says. “The librarians also talked about staff burnout and resources staff need to support staff as they serve their communities.”
In 2022, the group piloted a survey, which garnered 505 responses, to obtain information about the programs and practices needed to support patrons who face economic, climate, and public health emergencies. A nationwide survey of library directors on the same topic is planned for in fall 2024. Survey results will then be distributed through IMLS-affiliated library organizations, and the data will be analyzed by summer 2025.
Then, the libraries with the most innovative programs will be interviewed to learn more about the programs they implemented. All data collected through the project will be shared with library professionals and educators.
“The input from these librarians was invaluable in helping the researchers understand the services libraries provide to communities and the challenges that library and staff face when providing these services,” Vamanu says. “We hope the research findings will help public libraries identify best practices for building community resilience and the project will provide training for local librarians as well as librarians across the country.”