Partnering to Promote Service Continuity in the Event of an Emergency: A Successful Collaboration between Two Interlibrary Loan Departments

Article excerpt


Much of traditional library disaster planning focuses on recovery of facilities and collections, while relatively little planning focuses on preparing libraries to continue to offer selected services to their patrons throughout a disaster [I]. This article reports about a service continuity plan developed by two academic health sciences libraries' interlibrary loan (ILL) departments, who have established an effective partnership for continuing selected services when normal functioning is compromised. Corporations have long prepared for disasters by implementing what is referred to as business continuity planning (BCP), and libraries can benefit by taking a lesson from the corporate sector in this area. While corporate BCP is driven by basic costbenefit principles (e.g., the longer a company is shut down, the less revenue is generated), a service continuity plan among libraries can ensure that core services remain available to patrons during times of emergency or disaster, perhaps when they are needed most.

In an academic health sciences library environment, ILL services can be essential. Whether the patron is a health care professional in a hospital, medical school, or private practice, the need for information can be urgent, especially during a disaster when normal health care staffing routines are disrupted. Yet ILL services are more vulnerable to disruption than some other library services. Two factors that contribute to this vulnerability are a lack of depth of coverage in many ILL departments and the high level of expertise required to effectively access and transmit information across the various platforms used in ILL procedures.

Recently, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN /LM) developed its National Emergency Preparedness & Response Plan to address preparedness and response, specifically service continuity, among its members. The NN/LM plan strongly encouraged its network members to seek out and establish partnerships, or "back-up" relationships, with other members: "Network members are encouraged to partner with a back-up library and to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), specifying services that would be provided by the back-up library to the affected Network member in the event of a disaster" [2].

In the spirit of the NN/LM plan, the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia (CMHSL at UVA) and the Health Sciences Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (HSL at UNC-CH) have collaborated to establish procedures for continuing each others' essential ILL services in the event of some type of service disruption. For the purposes of this initial phase of a possibly ongoing project, the two libraries have defined "essential ILL services" as requests for materials not owned by the borrowing library for its patrons from another library. The scenario of an influenza pandemic was one of the driving forces behind developing the partnership between the two ILL departments. The prospect of an avian influenza pandemic has been looming for the past several years and is being monitored closely by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Three influenza pandemics occurred in the last century (1918, 1957, and 1968), and public health experts generally agree that another is likely in the near future. Although no one can predict when the next pandemic might happen, some experts believe we are already living on borrowed time [3].

A pandemic is likely to occur during a typical flu season, fall through early spring, and the likely scenario for a pandemic presents some special problems for service continuity. To reduce the spread of the pandemic, public health officials might request that universities, businesses, and other institutions take social distancing measures, such as suspending classes and closing areas that are open to the public, to reduce the spread of disease. …