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Librarians and Crisis Response: The Case of COVID-19 Maker Response

On Thursday, March 19, 2020, Dr. Pierre Elias, a Columbia University cardiology fellow, reached out to Research and Learning Technologies librarian Madiha Choksi to utilize the Columbia University Libraries' 3D printers to produce supplemental face shields. Within a few days, she had optimized an existing design for face shields, taken two 3D printers from Butler Library to her apartment, and was printing parts and assembling shields. A few days later, she was joined by her fellow librarians, Alex Gil and Moacir P. de Sá Pereira. Two months later this team of librarians had organized one of the largest PPE grassroots efforts in the city, COVID Maker Response, which effectively produced and distributed more than 25,000 face shields to New York City hospitals and other front line institutions during the height of the city's pandemic crisis.

In this talk, the three librarians will share their experience building this volunteer collective: logistics, finances, project management, and communications. The team will also expand on their notion of "nimble tents" - a trans-institutional approach to rapid hacking in moments of crisis - and recent experiences and examples, including the #PRMapathon library response that effectively rebuilt the OpenStreetMap of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to help the Red Cross, and the rapid response research of Torn Apart / Separados during the family separation crisis of 2018. At the core of the librarians' argument is the idea that library professionals already have the skills they need to make effective and impactful interventions in moments of crisis.