Virtual Library Services


With libraries across the United States closed due to the coronavirus, libraries can maintain their virtual presence in the community and continue to provide information and personalized services to the public by establishing their own online virtual services platform.  PLA did a good program on how to get going with online programming.  In this on-demand webinar, "Virtual Platform Possibilities - Providing Digital Skilling Resources for Patrons, the folks at NYPL did a great job providing an overview of numerous online tools and criteria to consider when evaluating them.  In addition, they also provided specific advice for tools for different purposes including: broadcasting, virtual meetings, webinars/conferences. They also mentioned Microsoft Teams for collaboration with teams and Google Classroom for managing course material.  Here are the NYPL slides.

What they didn't address is what it means to be an organization that is not just delivering programs online, but that is functioning remotely. For that, the webinar featured a Certified Microsoft Trainer who presented a quick and dirty (but pretty thorough) look at Microsoft Teams. If your library is already a Microsoft shop, teams is a great way to go. And you probably know all the things you can do with Microsoft Team. However, there is another product that you could use right now that does many things that Team can do and it is pretty simple to set up.  That product is Slack

The Galecia Group has experimented with several different combinations of products that libraries could put together now so they could better manage a remote and distributed workforce, and make it possible for library staff to interact with one another more easily throughout their workday and also with patrons.  What we came up with was a combination of ZenDesk and Slack and Zoom.  If your library uses Microsoft Teams, you can use Teams in the places where we recommend Slack.

We found this combination of products to provide the range of functionality library staff need to work effectively and collaboratively  and affordably  right now.  This combination of products could be put together right now for your staff even when they aren't in the library building. The products together also make it easier for library administration to manage schedules of staff who are taking patron's calls and communicating via text and chat, to track the communications for statistical reporting purposes and also to make sure no patron requests fall through the cracks.  The products also provide a relatively affordable solution for supporting staff communication via chat, phone or video call and communicating effectively and securely with patrons and other community partners via chat, phone, video call, or SMS. 

As a service provider, The Galecia Group is providing integration services for the suite of products we've put together.  But you can also put your products together on your own if you have the in-house staff available to do it.  We've found that ZenDesk + Slack + Zoom integrate extremely well and provides the best bang for the buck. Here's a little bit more about it it can work.

We suggest you use ZenDesk to centralize all of your communications with patrons so you can track them and count them and so they are all centralized and each ticket can be managed. With ZenDesk, all communications come into one application that you can manage regardless of the communication channel (call, chat, SMS, social media, voice mail).  And people using ZenDesk can stay in ZenDesk when they replay -- again, regardless of the communication channel being used.  Chat received will be answered with chats.  Emails with emails.  But to your staff, they'll just be in ZenDesk.

Only the people who will be responding to ZenDesk "tickets' need to have an account (and that's what costs the money) so you should plan ahead for how you are going to serve your customers before you head over the get your ZenDesk accounts set up.  And while ZenDesk is a pretty intuitive product to use, it is super confusing to figure out which of their products you actually should be buying. In putting together our ideal Virtual Services Platform, we've used a combination of a couple different types of accounts to keep the cost down and that is what we would recommend you do as well.

ZenDesk has an amazing feature when it comes to phone calls too.  You can forward one or more phone numbers to ZenDesk and your staff can answer the calls received within ZenDesk itself.  Not their home phone.  Not their cell phone. The call comes into their ZenDesk app and they answer the call through their browser. So their personal number stays private and the patron experience is they just called the same 'ol library number and STILL got library staff even though the library is not open to patrons.

We envision Zoom as the tool you use when you need to jump quickly into a face-to-face meeting with someone.  For example, when chatting with a patron via ZenDesk because they are having trouble downloading an ebook, you can send them a Zoom link to click so you can initiative a co-browsing session. Much easier to help someone that way than having them type explanations of what they are seeing on the screen.  You can co-browse wherever they are on the Internet, it doesn't have to be your website. So staff can actually help them with things like finding forms and applying for unemployment or CARES grants or any number of other things using Zoom.  And with ZenDesk, whether the call comes in via email, chat or SMS, you can just send them the Zoom link to get a co-browsing session started.

Slack is the tool that recreates the library workplace environment.  It is a low-cost way to keep everyone in constant and easy communication.  Slack uses "channels" that can be created for each department or project (very flexible) so you can send out a message to people in a channel easily. Channels can be private to a small group of users or available to the entire staff.  You can click a button to start a group phone call in Slack - say if you are working with a few people on a project and you decide it would be easier to just talk it out.  Just click the button and everyone in that channel will be invited to join the call. Or it could be a video chat.  Same process but with video.

Slack offers tons of integration options.  We use it with Google Drive and Google Calendar.  You could add a time-keeping app if you wanted people to check-in and check-out of work.  You could....well, there's a lot of things you can do. Here's the list of apps that work with Slack.  If your library is already using Microsoft Teams, you won't need Slack.  Microsoft Teams can do most things that Slack can do.  We included Slack because it is easy to just start using it and it is affordable.  Teams is more of an enterprise application.

As I said, we've done the work of integrating these products and we know what they can do. The trickiest part is figuring out how you are going to set up your staff to work remotely and who will be doing what.  And we'd love to help you plan that out and help ensure you don't pay for more than you need.  We're also offering to cover the software costs so you can set-up your virtual environment on a subscription basis.  That way you can cancel if you need to, without getting locked into a bunch of software licenses you don't want to use anymore.

We believe libraries could and should be doing more right now but they just aren't aware of how to do it.  Given the tools available today, there is no reason that libraries should be limited to pointing to their downloadable ebooks and doing chat reference during these closures.  You can do so much more.  We are happy to help you.  And even if you don't need the help, we hope you will consider how you can add these remote services to your repertoire.  This isn't the one and only time we will be ordered to stay-at-home.  It's likely to come around again.  And besides, once you set up these services, you create more opportunities for some staff to work from home even when they aren't required to be home!  And patrons will certainly appreciate the increased availability of their trusty library staff even when there are lockdowns.

Feel free to make a free 45-minute appointment  and we'll help you get started.  We've been holding webinars to talk to libraries about this.  You can sign up for a live webinar on our website (or eventually we'll have a recorded webinar available from that same page).