What Happens if Your Library Systems Go Down?



We’ve done a lot of planning and preparing and organizing in our library since Hurricane Sandy hit NYC to ensure that we would have business continuity in case of another such disaster. We’ve designed a disaster recovery plan, put backups into place, etc. But what if it’s not a full-blown disaster? What if the IT staff are away on vacation or off-site at a meeting and the server, website, or electronic resources go down? Does the rest of your staff know what to do?

This is a situation that has come up a few times in our library and we realized that there are two major considerations to address; putting a troubleshooting response protocol into place so that all staff are informed and know what to do in such a situation, and instituting a PR response protocol to guide what and when to share about outages on social media, listservs, etc.

Toubleshooting Response Protocol

No library is immune to outages so it’s important to let your entire staff know that it is a very real possibility that you may experience unplanned downtime at some point in the future and that there’s a clear plan in place for that occurance.

  • Tell Staff Who To Notify – The best way to ensure that your systems get fixed is to inform staff about who they should notify in case they do go down. This list of who to notify should specify several people in order of notification, so that if one is away/unreachable, they can attempt to contact the next person.
  • Give an Overview of How Things Work – In our library, different systems are handled by different people and providers. For example, our website is hosted by one company while our network is monitored by another, and our databases by others. It’s helpful to let staff know about this so that they can determine which company to contact in case of an outage, even if IT isn’t readily at hand.
  • Provide a Plan for Continuity – If your servers go down and you’re hosting Outlook in-house, how can staff get their email? Is there a cloud backup service you’ve put into place? If so, does staff need to set up accounts beforehand? How will staff access their documents if your network server is down? Again, are you using an online service such as iBackup that they have access to? If so, let them know ahead of time how to get into it. We recently rolled out Microsoft Office 2013 which allows users to save their documents to their hard drive, but also to a cloud-based OneDrive storage app. You may encourage your staff to save copies of heavily accessed files to this space as well.
  • Have a Print Copy of the Plan – If you’ve posted this information on your intranet or sent it via email and your network or internet service is down, no one will know what to do. Always have a hard copy of the plan in the office where staff can access it.


PR Response Protocol

  • Tell Staff What to Post – If your library website is down, you’ll want to let your patrons know that you’re working on it and give them an alternative way to reach you. But it’s important to think about the message you send and the best way to do this is to speak with staff ahead of time about what kind of message will be presented in case of a website, database, or other outage.
  • Recommend a Timeframe for Posting – If your website or e-resources go down, odds are that your provider who is having the problem already knows about it and is frantically working to fix it as quickly as possible. Therefore, most of these outages resolve themselves inside 15 minutes to half an hour. While you want to keep patrons informed, you also don’t want to tweet to your 5,000 followers that your website is down if it’s back up by the time your tweet is read. Think about what timeframe works for your organization and let staff know when they should let the word out.
  • Tell Staff Where to Post – Where is it most critical that you tell your patrons about the outage? Where are they most likely to be? For our library it’s a couple of listservs that are closely followed by our members. For your library it may be on Facebook or Twitter or your blog. If you need to let you patrons know about a significant outage that you’re having you want to choose the right venue(s) for your announcement.