Weathering the Virtual Library

Adriana Edwards-Johnson, Pioneer Library System @adriej


Pioneer LS serves a three-county area in central Oklahoma, outside of Oklahoma City. 11 branches and 7 information stations; information stations serve communities that are too small for a branch and provide library services like book delivery, storytimes.

VIrtual library has been around since 2006. 3 librarians who handle all the online library services & social media.

3 Days in May 2013: 5/19; 5/20; 5/31 all in the Pioneer Library System service area.

May 19: Rural communities (Cleveland and Pottawatomie counties). Library services impacted: info station; Moore, Norman & SOKC libraries closed early; staff property damage; Response: check on staff; get word out on damaged/lost material help.

Power outages in other communities.

May 20: High alert from NWS. 1st library cancellation for evening was 10:30am; city of Moore announce school evening events cancelled — we share; Virtual Library Coordinator leaves at lunch to go home; library cancellations continue early closings begin at 12:30pm; 2:19pm All PLS libraries officially closed for day. VL Coordinator is communicating the closings via social media.

Moore PL was 2 blocks north of the tornado; SOKC PL was 1 mile north of the tornado.

This tornado hit in the middle of the day: they normally don’t hit then.

In the Moment Response: are you going to be in the state of mind to respond quickly, that your staff and users need? Immediate aftermath and long term aftermath. P

Phone services down. Cell service, too. Adri was home, able to get ahold of City of Moore PR person. City Hall in Moore was still there. She assumed the library was there bc city offices are next door.

Contacting staff — monitoring social media search terms. Tracking #okwx — important to track severe weather hashtags. Family of library staff trying to find their staff. Shared, Retweet & Respond, facilitating the conversation.

FEMA and NWS and Red Cross: number one thing people want after a disaster is to get ahold of loved ones. Libraries can help facilitate that. Hurricane Sandy response — libraries were active in this. Must have structure in place to respond as quickly as possible.

Hurricane Katrina response; Galveston;

Challenges in the aftermath of May 20:


  • phone service not reliable
  • electricity failure to library w webserver and email server
  • fiber network went down to Moore (4 days to restore Internet)
  • Library voice lost in the noise?
  • Outside do-gooders — people want to help, even as people were still traumatized in the aftermath.
  • Life still going on (library services still ongoing in other parts of the service area) — how do you reconcile that? Relief mode vs continuing service.

On Going:

  • Power struggle bw AT&T & Cox Communications
  • Small ISP in Rural Areas
  • Enough followers on social media

Google Crisis Maps

Adri couldn’t get down I35 to get to her office in Norman — it was blocked by debris. She worked out of the SOKC branch for awhile, and saw a lot of patrons and their needs after the tornado.

VL Actiosn in the Aftermath of May 20

  • A lot of communication
  • Message from Director in 1/2 day
  • Online giving for staff impacted in 1.5 days
  • Tornado Relief info up in 2 days (wanted to make sure it was good information) — info and terms used sent to Google Crisis, for people who can’t read maps, info in text format
  • Share, Retweet & Respond
  • Tornado Damaged Material process
  • Joplin conversations
  • Disabled ToS for Wifi — people needed to get online to tell family they were okay
  • Power strips — people didn’t use them. AT&T had a lot of stations out in the community already; other businesses anticipated needs as well.
  • Obituaries — had to go through library records of the kids & their parents who were killed in the tornado, and remove their materials checked out, so they didn’t have to worry about them. Adri took the initiative and did it herself. It was hard to do — but the right thing to do. Long-term impact considered (so collection agency didn’t go after these people)
  • Life goes on

Your Work Now is Your Voice Later — before and after photos.

  • Library able to provide before pictures to media via their Flickr account that was licensed creative commons. Its important having the metadata there as people searching.

May 30&31

Library services closed by 4:30pm on May 30 – nothing happened

Cleveland County Libraries closed 5pm May 31

Challenges: power outages; landlines phone services; debts

El Reno Tornado. Lots of debris into service area. Hit north of SOKC branch.

Changes for VL & IT changes since May 2013

In place:

  • Remoting hosting
  • Website – Rackspace
  • EZ Proxy – OCLC
  • ILS – SIrsiDynix
  • Calendar – Evanced
  • SMS Service – Mozio
  • Email: Mircosoft 360
  • AT&T Wifi hotspot backup
  • High end laptops — used as servers if needed
  • Redirect from FB Check-in Pages

Forthcoming: offsite backups of virtual servers; Master Plan for System (meeting with emergency leaders for response on the ground)

What have others done in response?

  • Galveston: Move HVAC/electrical/DMARC from first floor to second floor after a flood in Galveston from a hurricane; blocked entrances so water can’t come in there; infrastructure stuff as well;  also changed to virtual hosting off-site; lost of cell service. Rethinking how to solve faster later on.

Have a plan before the crisis hits: social tech work builds a better foundation during crisis. Facebook algorithm difference, paying for the access– playing with different posting strategies to get page to get the info out there better, instead of paying for it. Twitter adjusting for big events.

Twitter links for major players in the emergency response. Google Crisis — identifying who the major stakeholders are in the area for authoritative information. Cities, Emergency, News, more.

Virtual Services have place in the on-the-ground response. Never can have too many ears to listen to people. Meeting people needs where they’re at.

Life does still go on. Moore has already rebuilt 50 percent of the homes destroyed. Storm shelters going in. Staff did have homes destroyed, and rebuilt. Schools being rebuilt. Memorial project under way.

Know ways in advance to track information for patrons who may lose materials — proactively help them out. Have policies in place to deal with these situations.

Academic libraries: on-campus students vs commuter campuses, during snow storms, and campus closures? How do you make up lost information sessions?

Guide on the side for targeted training virtually

Google Hangouts used for training replacements virtually.

Plan for ways library can help community during these times of disaster.

Audience member says they put in a generator in their server room to help…but not if the infrastructure is down.