Yesterday PubMed went down. I am not a usual PubMed searcher. My MOC (Medline Of Choice) is Ovid, so I didn't notice the problem immediately. However, I began to field a number of calls from patrons regarding our full text journal links in PubMed not working. Two other librarians also started to notice some odd things occurring as well. Initially it appeared as if it was an issue specific to LinkOut and using Serials Solutions as the outside tool. Only after further investigation and a call to Serials Solutions support did we discover that it was a larger problem with PubMed. Apparently PubMed's servers went down at 1:00am that morning.
As usual the the emails started coming in from Medlib-l regarding PubMed. Librarians from different areas of the United States asking about the health status of PubMed as they too noticed it doing funky things. There was a brief discussion and some questions raised on Twitter Medlibs about what to do if PubMed goes down and you don't have access to Ovid. What do you do, where do you send patrons? Would third party tools work?
PubMed is free. PubMed is available to all. When it goes down, it is felt by a great many people. That is why it absolutely puzzles me to no end that PubMed can't even send out an email or post a note on their site that they are having difficulties. A simple note so that the various people around the world know that it is not their library, their institution, or their searching skills, that are causing the problem. Remember in order for us to find out it was a PubMed problem not our problem or our outside tool problem, a second party (in this case Serials Solutions) had to tell us. We are a medical library, we should be informed. We shouldn't have to find out from another company or ask other librarians via email whether it is working. There should be an obvious note on the site when there is an outage or if there are problems.
Yesterday, problems surfaced because of server malfunctions, an unplanned event. However, how many times has PubMed changed something internally and librarians were left scrambling to figure out why their settings changed, why their icons were no longer displaying, or other odd things? About 2 years ago at my previous job, I purposely held off activating the outside tool feature in PubMed for a while because at the time there were quite a few emails being sent regarding PubMed's problem handling of icons.
Just because PubMed is a free doesn't excuse their lack of communication. PubMed has become the premiere tool for many librarians, researchers, students, etc. to search the biomedical literature. They should notify their customers of outages.