Call Before You Dig: What Happens When There's No Internet at the Library

by Hannah on 2019-11-08 10:00:00

October 22, 2019: a day that will live in infamy (at least for a little while). Depending on your internet service provider, maybe that Tuesday was just a regular day. But certain internet customers in West Bend - including Walmart - were offline for most of the day. At Walmart, no internet means customers can only pay by cash or check. But what about at the library? That's the great thing about books and librarians - when Google doesn't work, we're still here.

After gathering information and reporting the problem, the first order of business when the library loses internet service is to post signs at the front entrance. Lots of folks come to the library every day to use our public internet computers and free wi-fi, whether it's for business, school, or entertainment. Signs on the door - and a staff person posted in the lobby - attempt to minimize inconvenience, so people know the computers and wi-fi are unavailable before they head all the way to the second floor and get settled in to work, study, watch videos, play games, apply for jobs, or do research.

But not everyone comes to the library specifically to use the internet; they want to find a book or a movie to take home and enjoy. Without internet access, not even that is as simple as usual. Gone are the days of the card catalog (though, if you find a cheap one at a rummage sale, grab it! They make cute end tables and are great for storage). When you ask the librarian if we have an item on the shelf, or what books we have by a certain author, we use a program called Polaris to sort through the millions of items in the Monarch Library System. Polaris keeps track of which items exist, where they are, who has them checked out, basically everything library staff need to know - but it requires an internet connection to access. 

This is where library staff come in. Our librarians were hard at work all day, flexing our knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System and the library's collections to make sure library patrons still found the materials they needed. Whether you brought your child in looking for books about sharks, or you needed a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, librarians were on the case. If your desired item wasn't on the shelf, we took handwritten notes so you could go about your day, then placed a hold for you when internet service was restored.

Circulation staff were instrumental in keeping the library running. Without access to Polaris to check things out, staff checked items out by hand, writing down library card numbers as well as the numbers of each individual item (14 digits apiece). In order to prevent massive hand cramps and reduce wait times, we limit checkouts to five items when we cannot access Polaris. After the internet came back, our head of circulation checked out all those items to the correct accounts by entering each of those numbers individually. Staff also set plenty of items aside for patrons to pick up the next day.

Plenty of library services are still available when the building's internet is down. If you need to have a meeting or a quiet study session, our rooms are still there. Our evening presentation about mental health went off without a hitch. The Digital Creation Lab remained open for business, our Puzzle Patch was bustling, and our children's play area was busy as ever. Thanks to librarians and circulation staff, the public was still able to locate, request, and check out materials. And we couldn't have done it without everyone's patience and understanding - we're so grateful to you for helping everything run relatively smoothly.

The cut internet cable was repaired late Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning we were up and running without a hitch - checking out holds, printing out forms, keeping the website up-to-date, and figuring out exactly where that elusive DVD might be hiding. We're not sure how the cable was damaged, but don't forget to call before you dig! Everything you need to know about what's below the ground is available on the Diggers Hotline website.