Ready, Set, Respond: How Atlantic City Free Public Library Prepared for ACA Implementation

Liz Morris /

Pam Richter joined the staff at Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL) in September 2012, and took part in the library’s active response to patron needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that fall, directed by her supervisor, Julie Senack, Head of Information and Community Education Services. An archivist and Information Services Librarian, Pam describes this experience as “eye-opening,” in terms of reinforcing how instinctively people turn to their libraries for reliable information and trusted resources across broad topics. A full year later, using lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, ACFPL is poised to respond and adapt to new information needs associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By embracing ambiguity, exploring and prioritizing available resources, and clarifying standards for patron engagement, ACFPL has reinforced its role as a key community institution.

While there was a tremendous amount of information made available regarding the ACA in the months leading up to the open enrollment period (which began on October 1, 2013), there is still much to discover. Details such as what the actual application process looks like, how long it takes, and actual costs of coverage are largely dependent upon the type of exchange operating in each state, complex eligibility standards and individual circumstances. Julie realized that while there are aspects of this policy that may exceed staff’s expertise, they can still play a key role as information specialists in assessing and recommending dependable resources for patrons, and began this resource identification process in March 2013.

Pam, along with Sandy Davis-Neff, an Information Services Librarian at the ACFPL, modeled the characteristics of a learning organization by attending information sessions sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, exploring resources at the official federal Marketplace website,, and working to connect with local consumer assisters. They also explored useful resources at AARP and the Kaiser Family Foundation websites. Through their efforts, they customized a comprehensive guide to refer patrons to dependable ACA resources and facts. In addition, they have a Spanish guide that was created by another member of the team. The library also plans to track the number and types of reference requests related to ACA questions in the coming months and use that information for future resource planning.  

Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford speaks at the grand opening of the Richmond Branch LibraryTaking the time to find and compile these reputable resources involved broader staff engagement to clarify the library’s role in sharing ACA information in a clear and consistent manner. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many patrons used ACFPL computers to apply for FEMA assistance, and library staff have also provided information and computer resources for patrons filling out unemployment applications. The library policies that guide these existing information services will be applied to ACA referral services. Specifically, library staff will be prepared to direct patrons to available websites and community resources, though will not review, enter or submit any personal patron information. Reinforcing such internal policies in conjunction with new government information resources is a best practice embraced by libraries nationwide, and may be further supported by resources such as the American Library Association E-Government Toolkit.

Intentionality and adaptability are cornerstones of the ACFPL approach to ACA information needs. In the days after Hurricane Sandy, ACFPL staff found themselves learning new information about recovery resources and updating that information for patrons on a daily basis for almost a month. Julie’s approach when it comes to the implementation of new programs is that, “We learn from it – if we make a mistake or don’t do something right, we change it. It’s always about the community.” And when it comes to meeting rapidly evolving information needs, Pam says, “Starting a plan is better than nothing. Plans are adaptable.” As individuals and communities nationwide adapt to the new guidelines of the Affordable Care Act, libraries like ACFPL will continue to advocate their relevancy, through their readiness to respond.