As librarians, you’re there to help your communities improve their access to information and resources, no matter their life circumstances. But “pandemic life” has stretched on for over seven months now, and while public libraries have adapted quickly, increases in new cases could mean sudden closures or service changes again. Curbside delivery tools like Pickup Manager provide an important link to patrons, and online reference tools like email, and even better, live chat, are becoming the most visible way to show you’re open and there to help them. Libraries are also finding that if there’s a chat option on their website, patrons will use it!
We also can’t forget that typically when times are tough, usage of the library goes up as people need help with resumes, job seeking, government assistance applications, small business resources, and free services and sources of entertainment they can’t otherwise afford. So while the library building may be closed, have shorter hours, or limited capacity – its community may need it more than ever.
Denver Public Library, a large multi-branch system in Denver, Colorado, and Arlington Heights Memorial Library, a single branch library located in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, have both dealt with closures and unexpected shifts in services during the pandemic. And with established 24/7 chat services plus backup Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative support, we asked them to share how 24/7 chat has impacted their ability to help patrons during the pandemic, and what they’re seeing so far with chat trends and community needs.
Serving public library staff and patrons 24/7 with live chat + cooperative support
Before we dive into their experiences, let’s introduce the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative (Co-Op) for those who may be unfamilar with it! It’s how you can show patrons you’re there for them, even during the late hours after their kids are finally in bed, they’re done with work, and/or they’ve finished taking care of a loved one. With true global coverage, it can ensure your patrons can get help 24/7/365 from a professional MLS-degreed librarian. We even have a dedicated Public Library Cooperative made up of librarians with extensive experience helping public library patrons!
Springshare also provides different contribution options, so you can choose to help out in the Co-Op and receive backup assistance when you need it — or choose to only benefit from Co-Op support! The Co-Op uses the same widgets as local library LibChat, so there’s minimal extra setup when it’s added on.
A few weeks ago we shared just how busy chat traffic – and our Springshare 24/7 librarians – have been this fall. But while we can talk trends and numbers all day, it’s our customers’ experiences that bring home how a service is helping their library, staff, and communities during these difficult and uncertain times.
Helping anyone, any time of day, at Denver Public Library
A bit about Denver Public Library from Frank Wilmot, Senior Librarian, Reference Services:
- Denver Public Library (DPL) is a busy 26 branch library system and has been providing chat support since 2013 with OCLC’s QuestionPoint. We transitioned to the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative in May 2020 after Springshare acquired QuestionPoint.
- Our chat and email service are primarily staffed by the Reference Services department (Central Library) along with a handful of other departmental and branch librarians who provide one or two hours per week.
- The Global Public Cooperative supports DPL constantly! The cooperative helps its customers 24/7/365 but primarily when DPL librarians are not staffing. When the chat service gets extra busy, when staff are in meetings, or even if and when there’s a fire drill, the public cooperative continues to support us and our customers.
Are you noticing any recent trends in patron questions and traffic numbers?
Chat traffic is up! At the end of September 2020, chats are up 41.7% over 2019. Obviously, 2020 has been an unusual year and when comparing Q1 2020 to Q2/Q3 when our buildings were closed, the monthly average still increased by 25.6%.
How have the cooperative added value to your existing chat services? Any surprising benefits?
We have been part of QuestionPoint’s 24/7 cooperative and now Springshare’s Public Co-Op since 2013. The cooperative has added value to our chat service since the beginning!! When chat traffic is too busy or if it’s late at night or early in the morning, we know that our customers will still get one-on-one assistance from a trained librarian with lots of information about our services and access to our resources. Since we joined LibAnswers, 22.5% of our chats have been answered by cooperative librarians. These are questions that may otherwise have been unanswered.
The LibAnswers software also makes it extremely easy for DPL staff to follow up with Denver customers and to strengthen the connections between the library and our customers.
When chat traffic is too busy or if it’s late at night or early in the morning, we know that our customers will still get one-on-one assistance from a trained librarian with lots of information about our services and access to our resources.
How has 24/7 chat support helped your library system transition services during the pandemic?
For a few weeks in March and April, when buildings were closed and before we started curbside services, the only way to communicate directly with library staff was via email and through our Ask Us chat service. Building closure was complete and abrupt, but because of the Global Public Cooperative, there wasn’t a single moment of interruption in at least one channel of communication and connection between the DPL and our customers. On a Sunday in March, DPL Reference staff were only able to provide chat service to our customers until 5pm, and while we were figuring out how to staff the service again Monday morning at 9am, the cooperative librarians were there to help answer questions from our customers overnight.
Building closure was complete and abrupt, but because of the Global Public Cooperative, there wasn’t a single moment of interruption in at least one channel of communication and connection between the Denver Public Library and our customers.
What do you think is the cooperative’s role in helping the Denver community? How does it fit into your long-term library services strategy?
DPL’s Vision is “A strong community where everyone thrives” and our mission states “Together, we create welcoming spaces where all are free to explore and connect.” Our Ask Us chat service is easily accessible and discoverable throughout our website and in our catalog. It’s available to anyone and everyone, whether you are in Denver or in another state or country with a question about Denver, Colorado, or the West. It’s available with or without a library card. Chatting with a real person any time of day or night helps us to create and build the connections between the library and our customers.
Maintaining 24/7 support during the pandemic at Arlington Heights Memorial Library
A bit about Arlington Heights Memorial Library from Jolie Duncan, Info Services Manager:
- Arlington Heights Memorial Library is a single branch library serving a community of 75,000 people northwest of Chicago. We’re also a long-time Global Public Library Cooperative member.
- We’ve relied on the cooperative to provide back up during all hours, but we primarily need assistance in the evenings and on the weekends after we close. We’ve had to shorten our opening hours by two hours to 8:00pm, and the cooperative now answers chats that come in during that time for our staff.
- During the pandemic, we continue to have staff cover chat remotely. LibAnswers also provides an easy way to chat with co-workers internally if they need assistance on a chat or need to transfer a chat.
Are you noticing any recent trends in patron questions and traffic numbers?
It has been interesting to analyze the chat stats and the LibAnswers platform makes it easy to view statistics and identify trends. In the months we were closed, we saw a steep rise in the number of chats, peaking with 1500 chats in June (over 3 times the normal amount)! Clearly, customers are moving to ask us questions virtually. The topics of the chats vary, but we have seen an increase in troubleshooting questions such as ebook help. Since so many librarians use similar databases, they can help troubleshoot for customers.
How has the cooperative added value to your chat services? Any surprising benefits?
The ability to assist customers 24/7 is such a value to our customers. The cooperative librarians can answer so many more questions than you might think. Participating in the cooperative allows us to also learn about other libraries and discover regional differences and similarities. Not only does it provide a great service to our customers, but for our librarians that participate in covering the cooperative queue, it provides them with a more well-rounded experience. It is a great opportunity to be aware of other libraries’ offerings and keep our skills sharp.
Not only does [the public cooperative] provide a great service to our customers, but for our librarians that participate in covering the cooperative queue, it provides them with a more well-rounded experience. It is a great opportunity to be aware of other libraries’ offerings and keep our skills sharp.
How has 24/7 chat support helped your library system transition to mainly online services during the pandemic?
24/7 chat has played a crucial role in maintaining customer support during the pandemic. When we closed our doors suddenly in March, chat was the only service we kept going for quite some time. By keeping chat up and running, we were able to provide access to customers so we could troubleshoot, and answer questions, and provide essential information about the library’s closure and level of services.
What do you think is the cooperative’s role in helping the Arlington Heights community? How does it fit into your long-term library services strategy?
Two of our core values are customer service and free and equal access to information and the cooperative supports both values. The ability to provide answers to customers’ questions when they need it vs. when the library is open is a real added benefit.
When we closed our doors suddenly in March, chat was the only service we kept going for quite some time. By keeping chat up and running, we were able to provide access to customers so we could troubleshoot, and answer questions, and provide essential information about the library’s closure and level of services.
Thank you, Frank and Jolie, for your insightful feedback! We appreciate you being on board with us and sharing your experiences. Having 24/7 patron chat support has enabled you to pivot quickly – and continue to adjust – library services without disconnecting from your communities. And when it comes time to communicating the value of the library at the end of the fiscal year, you’ll have the data to show just how many people you were able to help during this difficult time.