Photos courtesy of Logan Gerber-Chavez and iStock
January 28, 2022
A PhD Student’s Disaster Book Collection Reflects a Lifetime Learning Journey
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the winners of the third annual Seth Trotter Book Collecting Contest 2021, sponsored by the Friends of the University of Delaware Library.
His parents said it was not possible. His science teacher agreed. Yet a week later, Logan Gerber-Chavez, then 7, watched in horror and anxiety as a tornado ripped through downtown Salt Lake City while at recess. The next day, Gerber-Chavez consulted all the weather books she could find in the library, starting a lifelong quest for knowledge and an undying interest in weather.
Growing up, she moved often. Although this allowed him to experience a wide variety of weather conditions, it was difficult to create his own collection of books. Still, Gerber-Chavez continued to read and learn, borrowing book after book from her local libraries.
Currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the Disaster Science and Management program at the University of Delaware, Gerber-Chavez has settled in Delaware long enough to eventually put together her own collection – Once Upon a Tornado: A Disaster Book Collection .
It’s a robust collection that you won’t find reproduced at your local Barnes and Noble.
“There’s no specific place to find them,” Gerber-Chavez said with a laugh. “I can’t just walk in and say, ‘Let me go get some disaster books! Instead, Gerber-Chavez scours bookstores whenever she travels to find titles that speak to the theme of disasters, collecting an impressive array of books.
Among the more than 80 titles in Gerber-Chavez’s collection, you’ll find dystopian fiction, memoirs, textbooks and reference books, case studies and picture books designed to teach children about disasters. These books tell stories of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, mine spills, climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, pandemics and more. They share stories of survivors and provide insight into emergency management, environmental justice and disaster response.
It is a collection defined and expanded by Gerber-Chavez’s experiences, upbringing and natural curiosity.
In the Disaster Education program, Gerber-Chavez specifically studies complex disasters – when more than one disaster occurs at a time. Prior to this program, she had focused on the hard sciences, but with her doctorate, she wants to see where her studies impact people. Its objective is to help people in need to cope with the emergency situations in which they find themselves.
This desire to be part of real change on the ground was partly driven by the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Germany, which Gerber-Chavez attended as a student delegate. There, she realized that things had to happen at the local level if high-level plans to respond to and prevent disasters, like climate change, were to come to fruition.
“We can talk until we’re blue in the face, but there are real things that need to happen at the grassroots level that will take work to do,” Gerber-Chavez said.
But that wasn’t the only takeaway from the experience. Countries and companies attending the meeting share what they are working on to tackle climate change. At many of their exhibits, Gerber-Chavez found picture books that explained these concepts to children. The handful of books from Pacific Island countries and European countries that she received inspired her to continue collecting children’s books.
This is how Gerber-Chavez’s collection grows. She seeks out books that not only feed her personal curiosities, but also ones that help her better understand how to support those in need during disasters.
Take, for example, the disaster-specific memoirs in his collection. In her daily research, she often discusses all-hazards planning, the idea that whatever needs to be done after a disaster – restoring power, getting people home, etc. – is largely the same regardless of the type of disaster. From the memoirs in his collection, Gerber-Chavez can go beyond his studies and delve into each disaster. She can learn about specific responses and complications that have occurred, and she can learn from the unique lived experiences of disaster survivors. With this information, she can better understand regional, cultural, and other individualized instances that could impact emergency management. She can also ask questions that lead her to new topics and book recommendations.
Gerber-Chavez reads every book in his collection, broadening his perspective with every page. “In graduate school, you’re so focused on something, and you never really let go of that…” she said. “My collection is a way for me to be more aware of what’s going on in other parts of the field or even other fields of study, because there are so many overlapping and interdisciplinary disaster parts .”
Her personal experiences with disasters have also influenced her studies and collection. Gerber-Chavez helped two of his best friends in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Gulf Coast. She also lived on Navajo and Ute tribal reservations in the Four Corners – the intersection of the Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah borders – during the Gold King mine spill, and was able to help families working on their crops who had to deal with the impact of contaminated water.
“I have been in [disasters] in different contexts, and I got to see those impacts and experience them in different ways,” said Gerber-Chavez. “It changed some of my perspectives on how I view disaster.”
What started as a desire to learn more about tornadoes has turned into a lifelong journey for Gerber-Chavez, backed by education, personal experience and a book collection that reflects the many only sons of his path so far.
Guided by this same instinct since the age of seven and in search of answers for herself, she is determined to help others. After earning her doctorate, she said she hopes to work with local government that focuses on climate-related disasters and how it can support these marginalized communities.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading about disasters for 20 years, it’s that hazards are inevitable, but we can make individual and societal decisions to prevent disasters,” Gerber said. Chávez. “And that makes all the difference.”
Seth Trotter Book Collecting Contest
Logan Gerber-Chavez is one of three 2021 Friends of the University of Delaware Library recipients Seth Trotter Book Collecting Contest. The other winners are Katrina Anderson and Margaret O’Neill. The Friends created the contest to encourage reading and research, the building of personal libraries, and an appreciation of printed or illustrated works for enjoyment and scholarship among UD undergraduate and graduate students. Friends of the University of Delaware Library Provide Fundraising Support for UDs Library, Museums and Press.