library services in extreme temperatures

This morning on Chicago Public Radio there was a pretty good story on the 1995 heat wave [Real Audio file] that killed over 700 people, the majority of them poor and elderly people who had no access to air-conditioning. I haven’t yet read Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of the Disaster in Chicago, but it’s worth noting, as did Micaela di Leonardo, reviewing the book for The Nation in 2002, that

first we need to come to terms with the epidemiological realities of heat crises. Extreme heat, Klinenberg explains, tends not to be taken as seriously as other weather and human disasters–hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, plane crashes. But “more people die in heat waves than in all other extreme events combined,” and the ’95 crisis has “no equal in the record of US heat disasters.”
[Micaela di Leonardo, “Murder by Public Policy,” The Nation (September 2, 2002) Available online to subscribers and via various databases]

The City of Chicago’s Hot Weather Safety page (which is sort of buried, I might add) provides tips for keeping yourself and your pets cool, and a list of related links, including Chicago Public Library locations and the Department of Human Services Weather Relief page, which explains when extreme heat and cold warnings are issued, and what the DHS does about them:

The Chicago Department of Human Services coordinates the operation of Cooling and Warming Centers. Beginning with its own Human Services Centers, CDHS works with the Chicago Department on Aging, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Libraries to make public buildings available. In times of excessive need, the City enlists the help of community organizations that can open their facilities to the public for respite from the weather. [emphasis added]

In addition to coordinating the Cooling and Warming Centers, the department also works to

  • Provide transportation to Warming and Cooling Centers.
  • Conduct well-being checks on those at risk.
  • Expand outreach to homeless people on the street during times of extreme cold.

As summer continues, you might want to think about the people in your library and what kinds of services you are providing to those who may need the library as a place to stay cool. We can’t all provide this kind of service. [link via Ruminations] But we can make sure that we provide all library users the same courteous service, whether they’re looking for a copy of Heat Wave or just looking for a place to stay out of the heat.