Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Floods of information

I am back in the office today - I was working from home yesterday. My colleague Gilly Pearce was in yesterday so SINTO did not close!

It seems that library services in our area escaped without too many problems. Obviously there was a lot of disruption over the past few days but actual damage to buildings has been slight and only a few closures of branch libraries have been reported. However there is the threat of power blackouts in Sheffield today.

One feature of a major incident like these floods is the way in which people need information. At the moment people in Sheffield need to know which roads are open, when the power will come back on and where they can get help. So what is the role of public libraries in providing information?

In a situation like this the first source of information is the media and Radio Sheffield and the other local radio stations provide a vital service. Their web sites, such as BBC South Yorkshire, are an important part of this service.

The local authority web sites such as are another vital source of information and have tried to keep up with the changing situation in the aftermath of the flood.

A good example of community information on the Internet is the Sheffield Forum: a discussion forum where people can post messages about any topic related to Sheffield. This quickly set up a thread about the floods which as attracted a lot of postings. Many of these contain very useful information, links to further information and offers of help. However, as it is a discussion forum, it also contains a large amount of general chat which can make it difficult to find specific and reliable information.

So where do libraries fit in? Hopefully they are able to act as an access point for people who do not have Internet access and I expect that librarians are able to refer people to reliable sources of information. It would be nice to think that libraries are providing a proactive service in making information available to their communities.

What does concern me is that libraries have a very low profile in all this. I have heard nothing on the radio to suggest that people could use their local library as a source of information. The local authority websites do not refer people directly to libraries as a source of information and the library web sites are not carrying special links to flood related information. As far as I am aware libraries do not feature in the local authorities emergency plans. For example Sheffield City Council has set up a Humanitarian Assistance Centre in the centre of the city to provide advice and information. Are library staff involved in this? Given that many people can not get into the centre are the branch libraries acting as local contact points? If they are then why is this not being advertised on the library web site or advertised on the radio?

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