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  • Writer's pictureAmy Tippett

Library Visit #1: Academic Library

Updated: Feb 27, 2023


Three story brick building with a building sign in front with "Building N National Emergency Training Center Library"
Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Front entrance sign at the National Emergency Training Center [Photo].

Introduction

The National Emergency Training Center (NETC) library is managed by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) for the National Fire Academy (NFA) and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI). Whoa. There are four acronyms in the first sentence.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The acronyms can wait. This is a story that involves a neighbor of Alexander Hamilton, the first American-born canonized saint, and the first free parochial school for girls in the United States. It is important to understand the significance of the library's location before understanding its mission today.

Statue of Elizabeth Anne Seton
Tippett, A. (2022, August 22). Statue of Elizabeth Anne Seton [Photo].

Elizabeth Anne Seton

Elizabeth Anne Bayley was born in 1774 to an Episcopalian family in New York City (Seton Shrine, 2021). She married William Seton at the age of 19, and they were among the affluent in New York City, hobnobbing with their friends and neighbors Alexander and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Metz, 2019). In 1801 the Setons had financial difficulty and declared bankruptcy (Seton Shrine, 2016). Two years later, William Seton died from tuberculosis in Italy, leaving Elizabeth a widow at 29 with five children under the age of eight. Elizabeth had been introduced to Catholicism in Italy, and when she returned from Italy in 1804, she converted to Catholicism.

In 1806 Elizabeth met Rev. Louis William Dubourg, S.S., who was interested in starting a Catholic girls' school in Baltimore, Maryland (Seton Shrine, 2016). Two years later, Elizabeth became a schoolmistress there along with other women who dressed similarly to the Italian nuns Elizabeth had befriended. The New York Times reported, “After a year in Baltimore, Elizabeth and her little band rattled north in a covered wagon to what was then open farmland and is now a spacious, peaceful place studded with shrines” (Barthal, 1975, p. 214). That open farmland was in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she opened St. Joseph’s Free School, the first free Catholic school for girls, in 1809.

Elizabeth died at the age of 46 in 1821 (Seton Shrine, 2016). Because of three miracles she was said to have performed, she was canonized in 1975 and is the first American-born canonized saint. She is the patron saint of widows, seafarers, and Catholic schools.

Great story, right? But what does this have to do with a library? We are getting there.


St. Joseph’s College

St. Joseph’s Free School had evolved into St. Joseph’s Academy, with students living on the campus (Emmitsburg Area Historical Society, n.d.). In 1902, the Academy became St. Joseph’s College and was exclusively for educating women.

Tippett, A. (2022, May 24). The National Emergency Training Center, formerly St. Joseph's College [Video].


St. Joseph’s College remained operational until 1973 (USFA, 2022). The land sat dormant until 1979 when it became the property of the U.S. Government. It was then designated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and became the home of the National Emergency Training Center campus. The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places and includes 29 buildings, including the Burlando Building, built in 1870, which is now the National Emergency Training Center Library.


National Emergency Training Center

There are two distinct components at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) – the National Fire Academy (NFA) and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI). NFA is the USFA’s training academy for fire and emergency medical professionals. Its mission is to provide “free, specialized training courses and advanced management programs for middle- and top-level fire officers, fire service instructors, technical professionals, and representatives from allied professions" (USFA, 2023.) The mission of EMI is to “Support the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) goals by improving the competencies of U.S. officials at all levels of Government to prevent, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the potential effects of all types of disasters and emergencies on the American people” (EMI, 2017).

NFA and EMI offer in-person and virtual classes, which usually run for one to two weeks. NFA has an Executive Officer Program, which is the fire service equivalent of a master’s program.

NFA and EMI have different superintendents overseeing the two entities. NFA reports to USFA directly, and EMI reports directly to FEMA. Management of NETC falls to USFA, however. So, although the library is considered the NETC Library and does offer services for both NFA and EMI, it is predominately used by students attending NFA and is fully operational under USFA. NETC is not open to the public, without prior permission from NETC, NFA, or EMI.

After all those acronyms, I am sure you are reminiscing about the acronym-less Seton story. Are you still with me? We are finally at the library part of our story. Why is this history important, though, in terms of it now being a place for education? USFA states on its website the following answer to that question:

It is important as it speaks to the commitment to education and resiliency. This location has always been a place of learning and sharing. It is a place of incredible history and survival and a place of peace and reflection. It brings together communities of practice to address the management and leadership of events that can have catastrophic impact on our communities and our nation. Here we come together to work through difficult situations and to bring about change that provides for a safer and more resilient culture. (USFA, 2022)

The tradition of learning began with Elizabeth Seton in 1809, and that tradition has continued for more than 200 years.


Digital Access

The National Emergency Training Center's website's home page is a landing page on the USFA website, https://www.usfa.fema.gov/library/, and has the general format of other pages on the USFA website. The library's collection and database information is built on a LibGuides content management system, and the URL is https://netc-library.libguides.com/home. The collection database is available to the public, although most materials are only available on-site at the NETC Library. The website looks outdated and clunky, but operationally, it has an easy-to-navigate robust search engine. Basic information such as operating hours, research librarian contact information, a tutorial on using the NETC library catalog, and access to the collection's database are all readily available from the LibGuides platform. There are also guides on citation and the research process because much of the students' work involves research papers. The website assists students of NFA and EMI but also allows non-students to contact the research librarian for assistance.

The collection search engine allows users to refine their search by item type, collection, author, topic, publication date, and geographic area. Search results define where the item is located in the library and access to a digitized version is noted if available.

Staff is not listed on the website, but that is intentional, as will be discussed in the People section of this post. Because it is a federally operated website, the NETC library must follow Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. Some videos on the website have audio descriptions, but some are in need of audio descriptions.


Physical Space and Accessibility

The interior of the Burlando Building (built in 1870), the location of the NETC library, has been described in the following manner:

The interior of the Burlando Building features a two-story rectilinear room that originally served as a Commencement Hall. The second-story balcony, a twentieth century addition, encircles the room, providing additional work space. The room is ornamented with bracketed pilasters and Corinthian consoles. The ceiling, currently covered with acoustical tiles and florescent lighting, is supported by fluted metal Corinthian columns set upon a paneled base. (National Park Service, 2021, p.12)

There are a few parking spaces near the library for people with mobility issues, but generally speaking, the parking lot is a short walk to the library. The main entrance to the library has a few stairs, and there is an ADA-compliant ramp at the rear entrance to the library. The Corinthian columns drew my eyes to the two-story ceiling when I entered the library. Thanks to a photo on the stairwell wall, I could see what the ceiling looked like before modern ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights. There are several tables for independent study, a few casual reading areas, and a larger meeting room for group projects. There are also three computer stations (without chairs) for general use.

Inside of the NETC library with Corinthian columns, book cases, and tables
Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Inside of the NETC Library [Photo].

Historical photograph of the interior of the NETC Library when it was used as a conservatory, date unknown
Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Historical photograph of the interior of the NETC Library when it was used as a conservatory, date unknown [Photo].


Historical photo of the inside of the NETC Library with nuns reading at the tables, date unknown
Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Historical photo of the inside of the NETC Library with nuns reading at the tables, date unknown [Photo].

Services and Intellectual Access

Signage for research tips used in training program at NETC Library
Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Signage for research tips used in training programs at NETC Library [Photo].

The library doesn’t offer any special programming for the students. However, Reference and Instruction Librarian Rachel Sawyer (personal communication, February 4, 2023) mentioned that in the past, she did offer citation and research training in the evenings. Signage assists with research tools and fire prevention messages. Computers are available for students to access the catalog and databases. But Sawyer mentioned that students rarely use those computers and have either already researched the sources they needed, or they ask the library staff for assistance. Books are organized by the Library of Congress classification, periodicals are arranged in alphabetical order, and reports are organized using a sequential numbering system.


People (Patrons and Staff Members)

All NETC students are welcome to use the library, but NFA students use most resources. This is because the NFA curriculum is based more on research papers, whereas the EMI curriculum is based on scenario-based training. From my observations of students on campus and knowledge of the fire and emergency service industry, most students are white males.

Eight people are working at the NETC Library. The head librarian, Caroline Hassler, is a federal employee, and the other staff is federal contractors. Staff names and images are not on their website because the contract for their federal contractors states that their names and pictures will not be made public (Hassler, personal communication, February 4, 2023). Hassler said that she did not feel comfortable putting her name and image on the website as, in her opinion, it would appear that she was the only worker in the library.

Hassler (personal communication, February 4, 2023) became the head librarian at NETC during the pandemic after leaving her position as a supervisory librarian for US Government Publishing. She received her master's degree in library studies from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in liberal arts from the Harvard Extension School. Hassler and Sawyer are the two full-time librarians, and the other staff works in support services ranging from administration functions to user support.

I did not see any students during my library visit, but that is most likely because it was a Friday afternoon. Students typically arrive on campus on Sunday and depart on Friday afternoons.


Collections

The NETC library has a unique collection of materials about the fire and emergency service. The collection includes books, periodicals, DVD and VHS tapes, and reports. Aside from research materials, the library has fiction and non-fiction books for students to borrow on campus. There is also a children's books section used by students researching how public safety and life safety are depicted in children's books. There was also a display of fitness and health books. There is also a table (without chairs) with laptops for students to use, but they cannot print from the laptops, and because of federal restrictions, they cannot insert thumb drives or other memory devices. Their extensive VHS collection is not usable by students because they do not have a VHS player. Hassler and Sawyer (personal communication, February 4, 2023) expressed interest in digitizing their DVD and VHS collection but still need funding and staff resources to accomplish this task.

Hassler and Sawyer (personal communication, February 4, 2023) are interested in raising visibility and awareness of the library. Some of the initiatives they have discussed are having movie nights in the library, as many students stay on campus during the week, and there are no evening activities aside from a campus bar. They also discussed the concept of a library of things so students could borrow items while on campus. They felt it would be helpful to have different types of electronic charging cords as that is something that is frequently requested.

One computer station would be usable for someone in a wheelchair, but the bookcases may not all be accessible to someone in a wheelchair. The library's second floor is not accessible to someone with mobility issues and was grandfathered into ADA compliance because of the historical designation of the building.

Tippett, A. (2023, January 27). Various images from the collection at the NETC Library [Photo].


Other Characteristics

Although most of the NETC Library collection focuses on the NFA mission, one part is related explicitly to EMI. EMI was developed from the National Civil Defense Staff College, which was created in response to the Cold War (EMI, n.d.). Due to a fear of Washington, D.C., being a target during the Cold War, the library collection was moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1979, when the federal government purchased St. Joseph's College and created the NETC, the library collection was moved to the NETC campus. This collection is stored at the NETC Library.


Conclusion

I am a consultant for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and one of its offices is at the deconsecrated chapel on the NETC campus. I have been going to the NETC campus for about ten years and am familiar with most of the buildings on the NETC campus. However, I had to look on a map to find the library because it is off the beaten path. I have never noticed signage in public spaces like the cafeteria and break rooms near classrooms, but I can't say with certainty that there is no signage. I was surprised at the variety of books they had in the collection, especially the children's books. Although children would rarely, if ever, go to the NETC library, it was interesting to know that students have done research papers about children's literature. I am interested in exploring this more in the future.

My other major takeaway is the commitment of Hassler and Sawyer to the library and servicing the students. Their professionalism, pride, and care for the library's history and the missions of NFA and EMI indicated to me that the most essential resource of the NETC library is the people who work there.

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton would be proud to see that the tradition of the value of education is still embedded in the grounds of the campus in Emmitsburg, MD, and women are the ones leading the way to help support the helpers.


References

Barthal, J. (1975, September 14). A saint for all reasons. New York Times.

Emmitsburg Area Historical Society. (n.d.). The history of Saint Joseph College. Emmitsburg

Metz, J. (2019, April 4). Founding connections: Elizabeth Seton’s relationship to Alexander

Emergency Management Institute. (2017, March 2). About EMI. Emergency Management

Emergency Management Institute. (n.d.). Origins of EMI: Civil Defense Staff College.

United States Fire Administration. (2022, August 19). National Emergency Training Center

United States Fire Administration. (2023, February 1). About the U.S. Fire Administration.

U.S. Fire Administration. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/about/.

National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. (2016). Full biography of St. Elizabeth Ann

National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. (2021, February 25). The life of Saint Elizabeth

National Park Service. (2021, June 10). National register of historic places registration form.

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