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Tech Check-Out: A Look at Life in Seattle Libraries Amid Cyberattack



Cyberattack hits Seattle Public Library’s Broadview branch, causing tech outage, and forcing librarians to manually check out books. The attack affected staff and public computers, online catalog and loaning systems, e-books, e-audiobooks, in-house Wi-Fi, and the library website. The situation was managed by library staff transitioning to a manual checkout process involving handwritten tracking of book and library card numbers. The library’s record-setting number of active patrons, digital and physical checkouts in 2023 were highlighted, emphasizing the impact of the cyberattack on daily operations.

Despite the outage, library regulars like Hans Teuber and Lise Glaser, both from Seattle, continued to utilize the library for their reading needs, unaffected by the lack of technology. Teuber, a self-proclaimed “low tech” Baby Boomer, visits the library weekly and picks up books for himself and his mother, remaining comfortable without the use of technology. Glaser, in search of a book for her book club, expressed her love for physical books and remained oblivious to the tech outage affecting the library.

The attack, which began over the Memorial Day weekend, impacted the library system’s operations, leading to limited access to various services. The investigation into the cyberattack is ongoing, with Seattle Public Library officials working to restore full functionality to all systems. Laura Gentry, head of communications for Seattle Public Library, shared that operational updates were being posted on the Shelf Talk blog, with no definitive timeline for when operations would return to normal.

The automated checkout process, reliant on barcode scanning technology, was replaced by a manual entry process, with librarians hand-writing book and library card numbers to complete transactions. The intensive data entry work was handled by skilled library staff across the 27 branch locations in Seattle, ensuring the effective tracking of book loans and returns during the cyber incident. The library’s dedication to serving the community was evident through the commitment of librarians and staff to maintain library services amidst the technological setback.

With the Broadview branch of Seattle Public Library experiencing a slowdown due to the cyberattack, the quiet atmosphere provided a unique experience for patrons like Kurt Schlosser, who checked out a book without the aid of technology. Through interactions with librarians and patrons, the value of physical books, human connection, and the resilience of the library community were highlighted. Despite the disruption caused by the cyberattack, Seattle Public Library remained committed to serving its patrons, adapting to manual processes and providing ongoing updates on the situation.

The impact of the cyberattack on Seattle Public Library’s operations, particularly at the Broadview branch, underscored the reliance on technology in modern libraries and the challenges posed by cyber threats. With ongoing investigations and efforts to restore full functionality, the library community, patrons, and staff remained resilient and adaptable to overcome the unforeseen challenges. The manual checkout process, though labor-intensive, demonstrated the dedication of librarians to provide essential services and uphold the mission of the library amidst the cyber incident.

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