But why is everything always breaking?!


I’m a slightly despairing Electronic Resources Librarian today, for no other reason than I can’t get one of our resources working. I’m waiting for further assistance, which I know will come, but I’m feeling decidedly impatient. I don’t like the idea that a user needs to access something and can’t. It’s no-one’s fault, but it’s hugely frustrating.

Anyway, I thought it might be time to talk a little bit about the issue of why resources stop working (and by stop working, I usually mean that they cannot be accessed). There are all sorts of reasons why a resource can’t be accessed: the  authentication system may be down; the resource may be down; an upgrade may have gone wrong. It might even be a combination of the three, in which case my blood pressure rockets and I sprout another grey hair or two!

The unfortunate thing about resource problems of the technical nature, which is pretty much what I’m talking about here, is that in most cases, someone else needs to step in. In other words, if it’s a technical problem, I can’t resolve it. I’d love to be able to, but if there’s some technical infrastructure somewhere that needs attending to, an expert in that area will need to look at it. I think it’s fair to say that the relationship between ourselves – i.e. the academic library – and resource suppliers has improved dramatically over the past few years. Gone are the days when I would wait weeks and weeks for a response that wouldn’t even attempt to address the problems. I think we’re getting better at telling resource providers what the problem is, and the resource providers themselves are, getting better at understanding the impact of lack of access.

A few years ago I spoke to a group of publishers at JISC Collections about the issue of accessing resources from the librarian’s perspective, and the technical issues that appeared to cause problems with access. While some publishers were well aware of the issues, a significant number really had no idea how difficult resources were to access, and how it seemed that problems with accessing resources never seemed to be fully resolved. It was a truly enlightening session, and I concluded that there was little point ‘raging’ against publishers for not knowing, immediately, why it’s very, very annoying that the Journal of Stuff is currently unavailable. They won’t know unless we tell them.

So, what can you do to help?  Well, I’m not about to suggest that you all become experts in electronic publishing, or become an authority on Shibboleth (although if you do manage the latter, I’d love to hear from you!). Not at all. Your role in helping with avoiding resource problems is relatively simple. If you spot something you think could be a problem – perhaps there’s a login box you’ve never seen before, or you’re seeing an error message – then please do tell us. No matter what it is, we like to know. We can investigate and report to resource providers if necessary, and above all, we can ensure that you are not without access for any longer than you need to be. The best way to start to resolve your access problems are by contacting the Subject Help Desk via e-mail, on the phone on 01204 903404 or come to the desk in person. We are ready and waiting!



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