Business as (Un)Usual: Library Business Continuity Amid COVID-19

By Ellyssa Valenti Kroski, Director of Information Technology/Marketing The New York Law Institute

We’re a private membership law library which serves law firms and law firm librarians by providing research assistance, document delivery, and access to remote databases. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October, 2012, we were largely unprepared for what would follow.  The inability to physically access our building cut off access to our library’s email which was hosted in-house on our network, as was our application which provided remote access to all of our electronic resources for our members.  We also had a traditional POTS phone system in place, so answering patron phone calls was out of the question as well.  We really had to scramble in order to get temporary passwords issued so that patrons could still access our resources and post alternate phone numbers for contacting us on our website.  We did it, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fluid.  We decided right then to start transforming our business model to one that was more conducive to business continuity in the face of crises, one that was independent of location.  Eight years later we were much better prepared for this emergency.

Here are some of the systems we changed and had in place which made transitioning to a remote work situation less of an ordeal as well as some tips for preparing your own library.

The Technology

Staff Laptops – As we fleshed out our disaster contingency plan we realized just how many calamities the library might face, many of which might necessitate staff leaving the office at a moment’s notice.  We wanted a way to make them more mobile and one way was to transition everyone from traditional desktop stations to more portable laptops which they could grab and take with them should they need to evacuate and/or simply work from home.  So when we decided it was necessary to not return to the library in light of the outbreak, everyone already had their laptops at home with all of their bookmarks, files, and applications with them.

VOIP Phone System – Several years ago we made the decision to implement a Voice-Over- Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone system which essentially upgraded our previous landline phones to ones which were computer-based.  Our RingCentral system allows us a lot more functionality than a plain-old-telephone service (POTS) line including the ability to control call handling and forwarding from any Internet enabled device, flipping calls from one device to another, and setting up custom departmental groups and establishing who will receive those calls.  When we decided to begin working remotely we simply forwarded all of our library extensions to appropriate staff cell phones.

Microsoft Office 365 – Following Sandy, we decided to subscribe to Office 365 which not only took the hassle of hosting our own email out of our hands (and library), but it gave us access to Microsoft OneDrive.  With Windows 10 installed on our new laptops we have easy access to all of our files in the cloud, including all of our network files which reside at NYLI (The New York Law Institute).  We also have access to all of the files on our laptops from other devices as well.  This was a major infrastructure change and one which freed us from the headache of tracking down files, emailing them to ourselves, and/or trying to “remote” in to library servers.

Cloud-Based Intranet – We keep a private staff intranet with PBWorks in the form of a password-protected wiki. Every staff member knows how to access it to find important phone numbers in case of emergencies, technical documentation on all of our systems and applications, as well as procedural information.

Patron Access in the Cloud – We authenticate all of our members via a small application called EZProxy which resides in between us and our electronic resources.  It’s a proxy server which our members sign into in order to gain access to our databases such as ProQuest Congressional as well as our eBook collections.  Back in 2012 we had this application hosted on our NYLI servers and when they went down, so did our patron access.  Ever since then we have had this application hosted through OCLC’s EZProxy cloud-based service.  That way, even if we’re down, our electronic resources are not.

Microsoft Teams – We started using the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform last summer for group meetings, project teams, and technology training.  We’re now able to use Teams to have face-to-face meetings and calls remotely during this crisis.

Cloud-Based Backups – In addition to Microsoft OneDrive backing up and providing access to all of our files, we also have a secondary backup for all of our organization’s content via iBackup.  This application conducts regular back ups of all of our laptops and network nightly to be sure that there is an alternative access point for our files.  This is not an account that we would regularly access in order to get ahold of our files, but is used as a backup or redundancy only.

The Processes

Disaster/Business Continuity Plan – Fortunately, we learned from the many lessons that Sandy provided and we had a very detailed and cohesive disaster and business continuity plan in place when COVID-19 hit.  Although we did have to add a new “Pandemic” section to the document, we already had guidelines in place for remote work during an emergency.

Remote work practice – We had scheduled work-from-home practice days when the outbreak began to take off.  We also had several staff who were accustomed to working from home leading the charge.

Technology Training – We have quarterly technology training sessions with staff to make sure that they possess the skills necessary to make the most of the applications they are presently using and are aware of current trends.  Recent training sessions have included; Cybersecurity for librarians, a RingCentral Refresher, and Getting the Most out of Microsoft Outlook.

The Human Factor

Strong Staff Comraderie – Lucky for us, our staff is a small and tight-knit group who really come together during times of need such as this current circumstance. Everyone pitched in to make this a seamless transition.

Tips Checklist

  • Move as much to the cloud as possible.
  • Develop a strong disaster plan and make it a “living” document
  • Decide how you will maintain business continuity in the face of restricted access
  • Keep staff up-to-date on all technology upgrades
  • Have redundancies in place
  • Get everyone on-board with the plan

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