Disaster Planning for Smaller Libraries

A few months ago we had a minor flood in the library. It wasn’t catastrophic, in large part due to the observant eyes of a lawyer browsing our tax section. Nonetheless it was a reminder of how important it is for libraries, regardless of size, to have a disaster recovery plan. In addition to our firm-wide business recovery plan, we now have a specialized library disaster plan.

Key tips for the disaster plan include:

  • Keep the plan simple. Guy Robertson, a specialist in disaster planning, recommends that the plan be small and portable; wallet-sized is ideal.
  • Clearly delineate responsibilities of the various library staff members in the case of disaster. For example, who notifies vendors to stop mail?
  • Have a list of vendors in one place along with contact numbers and account numbers; make sure all staff members have a copy.
  • Keep a copy of the plan at home.
  • Review the plan regularly to make sure that contact and other information remains up to date.
  • With regards to restoration services (e.g. to repair books) it is a good idea to contact your preferred vendors ahead of time. Time is of the essence when trying to save print materials so already having an established relationship will speed the recovery process up.
  • Set priorities with regards to what materials you would want to save/replace. What should your priorities be in order to get the library back up and running?

If your library catalogue and related databases are housed off-site by your vendor, you may want to check where they are located and where your vendor keeps the backups. For example, our library catalogue vendor is also in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (prime earthquake area) so it is important that the backups of our databases be located somewhere else.

As important as the physical and electronic collections are, it is also important to plan for the situation in which you suddenly lose a staff member. Some tips include:

  • You should have a general library email account to which all invoices and e-newsletters are sent. If, for example, all e-newsletters are sent to the email account of a specific member and he or she ends up being away unexpectedly, this can lead to frustration.
  • All members of staff should have a job manual. The manual does not have to be very long but it should specify what they do, basic guidelines for how they do it, and any important contact information. Like the disaster plan, make sure you keep your job manual up-to-date. Keeping it in a digital format such as a Wiki makes it accessible and easy to maintain.
  • If you are a solo library professional, you will probably want to make IT (as they tend to get the “why isn’t this database working?” questions) and Human Resources aware that you have created these resources and where they can find them.

We haven’t yet had to put our disaster plan into practice (for which I am very glad) but the process of setting up the plan was useful and, should we ever need to implement it, I will be very grateful we went through the process.

Resources is a bibliography of disaster-planning resources
“Hit by a bus” has some useful tips on planning for unexpected staff absences.

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