Thursday, December 13, 2012

Library Lockdown (This was not a drill.)

The librarian is in the dark.
In February 2011, I read an article, "Active Shooter in the Library: How to Plan for, Prevent, and Survive the Worst" by Amy Kautzman, published in Library Leadership and Management. It was filled with practical advice that really could be applied to nearly any venue. It inspired me to develop a training program for our student library assistants. Being a part of the University's Crisis Management Team, I further developed it into a self-paced Active Shooter training curriculum that other departments could use. Besides Campus Safety, not a lot of people were excited about going through it "just in case."

Last night we had an opportunity to use what we have learned. Thankfully, it was not an "active shooter" scenario in which a gunman was intending to kill many people. Instead, a group of armed robbers randomly chose to pull off the freeway and hide out in a building across the street from us. But we were soon put on lockdown. Of course, nothing went "as planned" because, as Kautzman warns, there is no way to really plan for such an "event."

Since it is finals week, a fairly large number of students were literally left in the dark as we turned off the lights and locked the doors. If you are familiar with our building, you know it is a fish bowl. Staying away from the doors and windows is not easy. They are everywhere. The windows are tinted in such a way that during the day we can see out clearly, but from the outside they reflect like a wall of mirrors. When it is dark outside and the lights are on inside, there is an opposite effect. We can't see out but outsiders can clearly see in. We feel quite vulnerable. After dark, it was especially important to turn off the lights.

As things progressed, students began to voice their concerns about taking their final exams and turning in their term papers. Some had to be convinced that, under the circumstances, there were no finals last night. It was evident that they didn't know whether to be relieved or anxious.

Normally, the library is a place conducive to study and inquiry -- even thought provoking and inspirational. We try to maintain a quiet atmosphere with minimal distractions -- an environment that is comfortable, inviting, and hospitable. That includes basic safety. But sometimes things happen.

Even with the lights out students used illuminated computers monitors and cell phones to continue working. One was even equipped with a small pen light to search for books in the stacks. We continued to operate "as normal" for as long as we could -- printing papers and checking out books. Campus Safety came in to check on us several times and escorted those who wanted to leave to their dorms, their car, or the student center where as many as 50 students huddled together. After three hours we arranged for the five students remaining to be escorted out -- although they did not particularly want to leave.

Regarding the training, you don't need to be a trained information professional to know that people don't want to be bothered with learning something "just in case." But we all want the information we need when we need it -- "just in time." But here's an example when there is a place for both.

Because students don't usually know what's on a final exam ahead of time, to do well they should know all of the material that could be tested, just in case. Because an emergency situation is unpredictable and usually over before we have time to think (let alone gather information) it is prudent to be prepared. It is not pleasant to think that such horrible acts could happen here, but thinking about them now may prepare you to act when you have no time to think. (Just in case.) And, during the event, we all wanted pertinent information "just in time."

I recommend taking precautions by developing your emergency thinking skills. Then, as with the students' canceled finals, you can hope that you never need to test them.
A view from the entrance during the lockdown.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

1 comment:

Karen G. Schneider said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It's a timely reminder of the value of planning ahead. Amy's article is on my desk!