21 November 2012

Disaster Planning

Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 34.3, December 2009

It was a dark and stormy night, which gave way to a soggy Friday morning during one of the wettest summers in recent memory.  No matter how wet I got on my way to work, though, I could not have expected to find water running down one wall of my library when I arrived.

This morning, however, I found exactly that.  I walked into a near-panicked office, where early-arriving support staff desperately moved books from the affected shelves to a drier spot.  Apparently, a bit of flashing on the roof above us had come unstuck, allowing access for that steady rain.  This was a legitimate library disaster.

The Code of Federal Regulations defines "disaster" as an unexpected occurrence inflicting widespread destruction and distress and having long-term adverse effects on agency operations, and "emergency" as a situation or an occurrence of a serious nature, developing suddenly and unexpectedly, and demanding immediate attention, usually interrupting operations for a week or less (36 CFR 1236.14).  In my case, fortunately, recovery time rather than scope of damages is what qualifies the event as "disaster".

So, what are we to do?  In library school, much was made of disaster planning--we were told it is good to have one.  We even got a bit of attention to what should be included, but that discussion consisted of one class session in an elective course.  The take-aways I still remember were 1) identify (protect, try to secure first) the most valuable/ unique/ irreplaceable items and 2) freeze wet books to deter mold.

My first thoughts that Friday morning?  The freezer in our staff lounge refrigerator isn't big enough.  Library school failed me there.

 After removing all books from harm's way, I felt guilty about not having a plan in place for emergency events.  Yet as I studied library disaster response manuals by the light of the open barn door, I began to realize why the subject had gotten so little attention in school:  for most of us, it doesn't really matter.  The comprehensive plans describing collections, facilities, and potential responses or recovery partners are, certainly, essential to any independent library entity; every public library should have such a plan in place and review it regularly.  But for most of us, such an exercise is purely academic.  We are support organizations, resident within a larger firm, college, or courthouse, and our responsibilities do not generally include facilities maintenance, insurance coverage, or media interaction.  We do need to know what collections are important, so this material can be rescued or repaired, but our greatest concern will be restoring service to our users--and the IT and maintenance departments will have as much to do with that as we do.  This makes us very fortunate, as does the fact that having so many legal resources online means alternatives are often available even if the physical collections are not.

Having survived my disaster, in which no materials were ultimately lost but my space was in disarray for three months, my advice is simple: don't worry about planning for disaster.  Instead, cultivate good relations with the organizations facilities staff, make the library's special needs in an emergency know to them, and be glad you're a law librarian.

No comments:

Post a Comment