Providing current awareness and information support services during a national crisis: the role of the Pirbright Library during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK 2001-2
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The Institute for Animal Health Pirbright Laboratory is a centre of excellence for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) research and houses the World Reference Laboratory. Most scientific activities take place in secure bio-containment , and a challenge for the library is to provide access to information retrieval sources for the scientist at the bench. In February 2001 a case of FMD was confirmed in the UK: the resultant outbreak spread to most of the country and lasted until September. The UK was finally declared FMD free in January 2002 by which time more than 2,000 premises had been infected and 6 million animals slaughtered. Conservative costs were estimated at £3 billion for the public and £5 billion for the private sectors. This paper describes the valued support which the library gave to all the Laboratory’s activities during this outbreak and discusses the problems in locating resources and maintaining an up-to-date information service for clients working under difficult conditions. For many years an in-house database relevant to research on FMD and many other animal viruses exotic to the UK has been maintained. This has a web-based interface and is used to compile an electronic selective dissemination of information (SDI) current awareness service. It contains bibliographic records for journal articles, monographs, book chapters, conference proceedings and abstracts, reports and ephemeral items. It was an invaluable tool in enabling veterinarians, scientists and other staff to have instant access to urgently required papers and reports and was used in the preparation of responses to questions raised by the many official enquiries into the outbreak. The lessons learned and the preparation of contingency plans for any future exotic disease oubreak are also outlined.