A Short Reflection on Uncertainty and Risk

A white woman standing with her back to the beach in front of waves coming to shore. A yellow sign in the foreground has an illustration of a shark and states "Shark sighted today - enter water at own risk".
Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

We made it! We’re coming to you from our new server home. We’re still settling in, so please let us know if you come across something that isn’t quite working on the website. If you are one of our email subscribers and find this post in your spam box, you can add newsletter@ldhconsultingservices.com to your contacts list to help prevent future emails from being banished to the spam folder.

Now that the dust has settled, we regret to inform you that summer is almost over. Schools are back in session, summer reading programs are wrapping up for the season, and a new batch of LIS students are starting their first semester of library school. We also regret to inform you that the pandemic is still hanging in there, adding its own layer of stress and uncertainty on top of everything else.

Uncertainty is hard to plan for, even in non-pandemic times. Libraries with plans for phasing back in-building services find themselves changing those plans daily to keep up with changes in health ordinances, legal regulations, and parent organizational mandates. We find ourselves back in the first few months of the pandemic, scrambling to figure out what to do. Then again, we haven’t stopped scrambling throughout the pandemic to find ways to provide patrons services that won’t put both patrons and library workers at risk.

Risk assessment and management are exercises in dealing with uncertainty. We like to have neat solutions to neat problems; risk management tells us that problems are much messier and are less likely to be solved with neat solutions. Take, for example, four common responses used in determining how to manage risk:

  • Accept – Choosing to accept the risk, usually done in cases where the cost of the realized risk is less than the cost in addressing the risk
  • Transfer – Shifting the risk to another party (another person, group, or tool) who is better situated to manage the risk
  • Mitigate – Adding checks or controls to limit risk in a particular situation
  • Eliminate – Changing something to remove or avoid the risk

Some of you might be surprised that the last response, eliminate, is not the primary goal in risk management. This is partly due to the level of control we have in the situation that presents the risk. We cannot eliminate some risks due to, well, pandemic, while others are unavoidable due to the nature of our work – where we work, operational needs, external needs/pressures, and so on. In those instances where we cannot entirely eliminate the risk, we can still have some control over our response to the risk, particularly with mitigating or transferring the risk.

While we cannot eliminate all risks in our libraries around the pandemic’s uncertainty, we can still work toward identifying and managing risks that we have more control over, including those risks around patron privacy. Here are a few resources to get you started on managing patron data privacy risks:

By focusing on risks that we are better situated to address through transference, mitigation, and elimination, we can avoid the inertia that comes with being overwhelmed by risks we have less control over. It might seem like arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but living with so much uncertainty in such a short time can short-circuit our ability to identify and manage risk, particularly when we are not trained to manage risk during long periods of heightened uncertainty. If you find yourself at that point, you can take advantage of the start of the fall season by resetting the privacy risk management button by making a list of privacy risks outside your control and risks that you or your library are better able to manage. You might not be able to identify all the risks in one sitting, and that’s okay. If you are struggling to identify risks that you or your library can manage, revisit the earlier resources to help you through the process.

Managing risk requires accommodating uncertainty and variations of the same risk. Risk likelihoods and severity can change without notice. Risks also have different severity, harms, and likelihoods for different people – what might be a low harm risk for one person might be a risk that has more significant harms for another. Risk management strategies help wrangle this uncertainty by providing some structure in responding to the uncertain nature of risk. While we can’t eliminate uncertainty, we can be better prepared to manage uncertainty in parts of our lives, such as our work that affects patron privacy.

Construction Season at LDH

A yellow box with the text "UNDER CONSTRUCTION", bookended by a striped yellow and black bar and a construction worker yellow road sign. The worker in the sign is moving their shovel up and down from a pile of dirt in front of them.
We too miss GeoCities.

There are two seasons in Seattle: there’s the rainy season, and then there’s construction season. We at LDH have been serenaded by the sounds of jackhammers, backhoes, and excavators outside our office windows.

It’s also construction season on the LDH web presence! Thanks to a series of recent events, we will be doing some website work in the coming week. Here is what you can expect as we don our hard hats and break out the shovels on the website.

What’s Going On?

The significant change to our online presence will be our web hosting service. We currently use Webfaction for both web hosting and email services; however, Webfaction is closing down its web hosting service. Originally our web hosting was supposed to be migrated by Webfaction to another web host; however, the migration failed because of an incompatibility with the new web host. The failed migration leaves us at LDH to find a new home.

Luckily, we quickly identified a new home for our website and email service with our current domain host, Namecheap. We do not extensively collect personally identifiable information on our website, but we still wanted a hosting service that will protect our site and email data, such as not providing data to law enforcement without a court-issued order. It also helps that Namecheap has a history of advocacy around internet privacy matters, such as the campaign against CISPA and partnerships with the EFF and noyb.

What to Expect

On Sunday August 15th, starting at 7 am Pacific Daylight Time, we will migrate the LDH website and email service to our new web host. We will do our best to minimize downtime for both our website and email throughout the day. We expect the migration to be completed by Monday, August 16th.

Sounds simple enough, right? As anyone in technology will tell you, migrations have a mind of their own. It’s always good to have a backup plan when things fail (like having an incident response plan even when you have the best information security tools and practices at your disposal). If our site migration fails, we will post on the blog detailing the next steps for the website and how to reach LDH as we continue our journey to a new web host. If the migration is successful, then it is business as usual 😊

We thank you in advance for your patience during this time.

A one-eyed black cat curled up on the seat of a couch, looking up with her front paws curled under her head.
The Executive Assistant preparing to supervise the migration.