Supplies and Tools for Library Disaster Response

Meghan Ryan, Archives and Metadata Assistant, National Louis University

When preparing for emergencies for your library, gathering the appropriate supplies and tools are key to mitigating any disaster. Depending on your library’s environment and building structure, you will need specific tools to meet specific needs. The first step in gathering supplies and tools is to assign a member of your emergency response team as a supply coordinator. This person will be in charge of ordering supplies for disaster response, deciding the best location(s) for each emergency kit, creating a checklist of supplies, and developing a schedule to check the supply stock. This person will also be responsible for making sure staff knows where the supplies are located and that they have the appropriate training for the disaster materials. If you have your supplies coordinated and easily accessible, any disaster may be dealt with swiftly.

When ordering supplies, the coordinator should consider which disasters are likely to occur in their particular environment. What supplies would be needed for a fire or a flood? What would be needed if your library experienced a tornado? Think of all the possibilities and plan accordingly. Pre-made kits are available from many archival supply stores. They are convenient and robust in regards to materials included and include various protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and materials to manage damaged items. While the pre-made kits have many of the materials you may need, making your own emergency supply kit can be just as effective and tailored to your own library’s needs. A self-made kit may also cost less, depending on what is added.

Since safety is the number one priority, protective equipment is a necessity. Here are a few supply suggestions to add to your kit:

  • Waterproof gloves
  • Disposable aprons
  • Goggles
  • Dust masks
  • First aid kit
  • Rubber boots

After gathering supplies and tools to keep you and your colleagues safe, the next step is to obtain supplies to protect your library and collections post-disaster. Some suggestions are:

  • Polyethylene Sheets (plastic sheeting to cover shelves)
  • Garbage Bags/Plastic Bags
  • Paper Towels (for interleaving books)
  • Buckets
  • Sponges
  • Flashlights/ Batteries
  • Scissors
  • Mops/ Buckets
  • Vacuums*
  • Dehumidifiers*
  • Hand-cranked radio/cell phone charger
  • Storage Containers
  • Clipboards
  • Pencils/markers/pens
  • Fans*

This list is by no means exhaustive and is just to get you started.

*If these items are a part of daily operations and not found in the Emergency Kit, make sure staff know where they are located.

Once you have your basic supplies covered, think about specifics in your environment and consider what else could be needed.  It is also a good idea to look to other libraries with similar environments and identify what they have included since they may have items that you may not have considered. Many libraries list their emergency supplies online, for example, here is a link to Harvard University Library and The Smithsonian Libraries.  Another important point to keep in mind when assembling supplies is to make sure that you have plenty on hand to cover the initial damage until more supplies can be purchased.

When the supplies have been gathered, create a checklist of the kit’s contents and print a copy to keep near or inside of it. A good idea is to provide a list of each kit’s location and make this accessible to staff. The University of Illinois Libraries, for example, not only put their emergency kit locations online, but they also have included a Disaster First Responder Quick Guide detailing contact information and suggestions on what to do in case of an emergency. Along with letting staff know where the kits can be found, make sure they know the functions of the supplies in the kit and how to properly use them in an emergency.

Ensure that supplies are up to date by checking them on a regular basis. The coordinator should develop a schedule (perhaps bi-yearly) and sign off on the list when checked. When completing an inventory of emergency supplies, check the expiration date of things such as batteries or medicinal items in the first aid kit. While only so many supplies can be kept on site to assist with recovery efforts, prepare a contact list of local vendors and/or services for damaged items to be stored or outsourced, for example, the telephone number of a trustworthy cold storage company (more on vendors and outsourcing next month).

There are other tools that may not be found in your emergency supply kit, but instead on your phone. Apps can be downloaded to help during emergencies, such as an app available from FEMA, which provides weather alerts, tips, and disaster resources. Also, the ERS app, created by Heritage Preservation, is the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel in app form.

These suggestions should be considered when tailoring your emergency response tools and supplies for your institution. Having the proper materials on-hand and knowing what to do with those supplies can be the difference between struggling with the aftermath of a disaster and successfully lessening a disaster’s damage.


Doyle, Beth. “What’s in Your Disaster Kit?”. Preservation Underground. Duke University Libraries, 2010.

“Emergency Supply Kits”. Conservation Center for Arts and Historic Artifacts, n.d.

“Emergency Supply Kits and Quick Response Guide”. University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.

“Library Collections Emergency Response”. Harvard Library, n.d.

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and Manuscripts.  Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2010. Print.

Rushing, Erin. “May Day- What’s in Our Emergency Supply Kit”. Unbound. Smithsonian Libraries, 2014.

Continue to the next article: Recovery from a Disaster – Salvaging Your Collection Materials

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