Service Continuity at the University of Pittsburgh HSLS

In early February, the Mid-Atlantic region was hit with a major snowstorm.  Pittsburgh was hard hit, resulting in a 3-day closure of the University of Pittsburgh.  University of Pittsburgh’s Health Sciences Library System was closed during those three days, but core services were maintained from the homes of designated staff.  Barbara Epstein, library director, has shared the following notes from an Executive Committee debriefing session held soon after library staff returned to work:

1. The University of Pittsburgh’s HSLS relies on the university’s emergency notification system.  Therefore, all staff are to subscribe to the system and should also check the university’s web site.  If the message is “University is closed & essential personnel only” to report, then HSLS libraries will be closed.  Weekends are not considered workdays, so any closure decisions are made by library administration.
2.  Computer systems staff are considered “essential” to maintaining servers and the Web site.  They are responsible for keeping these services running from home or in-person if necessary.
3.  Systems staff will post information about library closure on their Web site, and will advise users to submit questions via Ask-a-Librarian (AAL).  Designated managers will check AAL regularly from home.
4.  Designated ILL/Document Delivery manager, working from home, will facilitate or forward any urgent patient care requests.  Some firewall problems were identified and resolved by systems staff.

Further reading: Director’s Reflection…a Blizzard of Online Services

New Service Continuity Brochure

Severe weather in your forecast?  If so, now is the time to plan for a service disruption.  To help you with the planning, we have created a new brochure that will guide you on how to quickly switch provision of your core services from onsite to offsite.  Click on the image below to view the brochure, or visit the “Promotional Brochures” page listed above.

Library Table-Top Exercise in the Snowy South

We have heard from Jie Li, Assistant Director for Collection Management at the Biomedical Library, University of South Alabama in Mobile, that her library held a very successful table-top exercise prior to a predicted snow storm recently.  While a few inches of snow is not an emergency in the northern states where there’s snow removal equipment and snow tires on people’s cars, it can be paralyzing in a state that has not historically needed to be prepared for it.  Jie is the State Coordinator for Alabama on NN/LM’s Southeast Atlantic (SE/A) Region’s Emergency Preparedness & Response Committee, and she used her experience as an emergency preparedness planner to apply the service continuity techniques promoted by NN/LM to her library’s exercise, with very positive results.

  1. they made sure that a librarian working from home would have vendor information and the usernames and passwords necessary to trouble-shoot any access issues for their electronic resources
  2. their Technology Librarian would be able to upload messages to the library’s home page about changes to hours and service provision from home, and also sent instructions about using chat, email, etc. for providing reference services
  3. the ILL librarian shut down ILL lending and would access DOCLINE from home for borrowing.  Access to ILLiad was also enabled from the librarian’s home.
  4. they made plans for scheduling virtual reference desk hours, to be provided from librarians’ homes
  5. they sent their completed Pocket Plans (PReP) and current telephone tree lists to everyone via email

Jie reported that the exercise helped them be prepared for the storm, which did close the library for part of the next day.  They were ready and able to provide virtual reference help and continued access to their electronic resources, as well as communicating to their patrons what the library’s hours would be and how to get help.  Many thanks to Jie for sharing their experience with us.  Hearing such great success stories is an inspiration to all of us involved in emergency preparedness and response, and reminds us that it takes only a bit of planning and communication to turn a potential emergency into a win-win situation for the library and its patrons.


Service Continuity Planning

Reminders of the need to implement service continuity plans are everywhere this year: snowstorms in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, tornadoes in California and Texas, and even a minor earthquake in Illinois.  Here’s a short list of services you may want to consider providing while your library is closed:

Communication: Make sure you have the ability to update your website from a remote location.  Don’t forget your blog, Twitter and Facebook, if you have them.  Update your library’s telephone greeting remotely.  Designate another number in the library for staff information.

Chat: Answer chat (Ask a Librarian) questions remotely while the library is closed.  This might be especially important during normal daytime business hours.

Interlibrary Loan: If possible, give someone from your ILL staff the tools to perform interlibrary loan duties from home.  If this is not possible, look into partnering with another library who has the same ILL management system.

Online Access: Someone from your staff should have the tools available at home to resolve any access problems to online materials.

Back to Communication: If you can provide chat and/or ILL while the library is closed, be sure to announce that on your website and library messaging service.

Sample message on a website: The library is closed today.  If you need assistance, or need to report a problem accessing our online materials, please contact us using our Ask a Librarian service.  This service will be available today from 10am to 5pm.  Interlibrary loan requests will be processed from a remote site.  Interlibrary loan articles received from other libraries will be delivered electronically.  Check back often for further updates.

Snowy Winter in the Mid-Atlantic

Winter snowstorms continue to disrupt services in the Mid-Atlantic.  Many libraries throughout the region have been closed since a major snowstorm hit the region Friday and Saturday.  The RML for the region, SE/A, has been closed since Friday at 1:30pm.  All service requests to the SE/A office are being handled by their backup RML in Seattle, Washington.

Here at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Library, we activated our service continuity plan on Friday morning in order to ensure continued access to online resources and interlibrary loan.  (We didn’t need to active chat offsite, as one of our reference librarians made it into work that day.)  Closing/opening information (we closed on Saturday) was maintained throughout the weekend on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.  Valuable lessons were learned along the way, which we will share with everyone in the near future.



Every morning, I spend about 20 minutes looking over my RSS news feeds, all related to emergency preparedness.  Currently, most of the news is about the just-ended hurricane season, however, I’ve noticed a trend toward a greater concern about the threat of bioterrorism.  The two events that seem to have prompted this concern are the release of the  progress report by the  Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism coupled with the amount of time it has taken to distribute the H1N1 vaccine.  The Commission’s report warns that “The biological threat is greater than the nuclear; the acquisition of deadly pathogens, and their weaponization and dissemination in aerosol form, would entail fewer technical hurdles than the theft or production of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium and its assembly into an improvised nuclear device.” This warning along with the potential of an accidental incident dealing with harzardous materials should prompt us all to be looking at our shelter-in-place procedures.

Cyber terrorism is also getting a lot of attention, thanks in part by last month’s 60 Minutes report.  A potential target, experts warn, is the power grid, so you may want to keep your print core textbooks accessible and up-to-date.

Statistically, December is the month with the fewest tornadoes, so this is a good time to be looking over your tornado response procedures.  We’re also seeing a downward trend of H1N1 activity.  Hopefully, you all have a solid pandemic plan in place  in the event that the virus spikes again in the winter or spring.  (If not, check out our Pandemic Planning Resources page.) And if you have a pandemic plan, you are therefore ready for a severe winter storm, as many of the steps you would take in a pandemic (e.g. reduced staffing, work from home) you could also take with a severe winter storm.

10 Steps in Kentucky

Mary Congleton, the AHEC Librarian at the University of Kentucky Medical Library, taught the “10-Step Approach to Service Continuity Planning” at the recent meeting of the Kentucky Medical Library Association.  She reports that the class was very well-received, and that the participants left with some ideas and tools for helping their libraries become better prepared for emergencies.  (Participants also received MLA CE credit for completing the class.)  Mary is the State Coordinator for Emergency Preparedness for Kentucky in the Greater Midwest Region of NN/LM.  She has been asked to present the class again at the University, helping to spread the word about the importance of looking at risk, developing procedures, and making plans for continuing service to patrons in an emergency.  Great work, Mary!