When a major content provider goes down, social networks light up with alerts from people noticing the problem, cries of alarm from students trying to finish last-minute projects, and reports from librarians of calls with database sales representatives with the story of why the resources are down. Earlier this week our main database provider, EBSCO, went offline unexpectedly due to an error on their system back end. Curiously missing from the usual network of communication was any contact from the provider. Not a peep, not on twitter, facebook, or e-mail.
From a library perspective, when a major content provider goes down, it is a legitimate disaster. For electronic resources librarians, all the usual work stops and crisis management mode takes over. At my institution we alert all library staff via e-mail of the problem to let them know we are aware of the problem and are monitoring it, we update our public services wiki so that staff sitting at service points like the circulation desk and reference desk are aware. As we get more information we send out follow-up e-mails to our library staff. When the problem is resolved we alert them that way, too. During the day we follow twitter, facebook, and the lsw page on friendfeed to see what other librarians are saying, to get any hints of information that may be helpful to our patrons. Unfortunately for all of us, we did it all this week without the help of EBSCO.
I’ve sent a note to our database sales rep outlining what I’d like to see when e-resource problems arise, and she graciously acknowledged the note noting that she would forward to her director for consideration. In the meantime, however, damage has been done. Choice tweets were plucked from the twittersphere, highlighting the frustration of library patrons trying to access the downed resources, collated at http://storify.com/jeremygsnell/ebsco-the-reckoning. What a shame that we weren’t able to respond to their concerns with any real information about the problem. I wonder if a degree of trust patrons have with their libraries has been broken as a result of this.
We’ve taken the opportunity here to examine our own disaster planning process for when something like this happens again. There are a variety of options for communicating outages and problem resolutions. I wonder which of these your institution uses:
e-mail to library staff
e-mail to university
e-mails to faculty liaisons
note on the main library web page
alerts in the ILS
When I’m back from ER&L I’ll be drafting a communication plan for how the library will respond when an individual resource goes down as well as when a suite of resources goes down. Do you already have such a document? If so, please consider sharing.