It’s clear that online learning is becoming a larger part of the student experience so it’s important for the library to keep pace with this trend. It’s been shown that access to the library increases the likelihood of student success. So when patrons need to chat with a librarian online, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to engage with them! It’s great for the patron and great for the library, too. But let’s be realistic – you can’t be there, online, monitoring your chat departments 24/7/365.
Good news though… We can, and we do! Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative has thousands of member libraries and librarians, representing the largest professional reference librarian network in the world. We have true global coverage, and we can ensure your patrons can get help 24/7/365 with a professional MLS-degreed librarian available to help them. Check out our interview below with the team at the University of Liverpool library and how the cooperative helps them serve their patrons successfully on a 24/7 basis.
But first, allow us to share some interesting chat reference statistics from the start of this academic year (for the month of September). These stats show a tremendous increase in reference chat traffic compared to the start of the previous academic year in 2019, demonstrating how much patrons do rely on the library to help them with their studies – especially in the times of COVID-19 when most learning happens online:
- The LibChat platform handled 379,510 incoming chats in September 2020 – a 182% increase over September 2019.
- More than 23,000 of these chats were answered on the Springshare 24/7 Global Cooperative platform (i.e. by the Co-Op). Each one of these chats represents a question that would have gone unanswered because the local librarians were busy or offline.
- 34% of September Co-Op chats were asked over the weekend, showing just how important it is to have seven-day coverage.
- Our Springshare 24/7 librarians have been busy! They handled more than 60% of all questions that fall back to the cooperative. So if your staff cannot contribute to the Co-Op that’s okay too – we’ve got you covered
Providing Seamless 24/7 Chat Service at the University of Liverpool Library
These statistics provide us with a birdseye view, but what does this mean for an individual library? The University of Liverpool has been a 24/7 library for the last five or so years, and back in March, their physical help desks went virtual, and their staff moved to online chat reference. They were early adopters of the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative, so we checked in with them to see how things were going.
Joe Hilton and Gwen Jones from the University Library were so kind to give us a little insight into how they have their chat services structured so that their students can benefit from “the human touch” of a one-on-one library interaction, any time of the day.
Tell us a bit about your local chat services. How many library staff typically monitor your chat widgets? What days and times are staff available to answer questions before they fall back to LibAnswers 24/7 Cooperative chat?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic we have anywhere up to 10 staff monitoring our chat widgets between 9am – 9:30pm Monday to Friday and between midday – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. Before March, we usually had at least two librarians monitoring our chat widgets. Effectively, all of our physical help desk staff went virtual so having LibChat already established as part of our service was a winner in many ways.
What went into deciding when you needed 24/7 cooperative support?
We subscribed to backup chat with QuestionPoint when we became a 24-hour library, and we moved early on to the new LibAnswers Cooperative platform after it was acquired by Springshare. We have a very comprehensive LibAnswers FAQ public knowledge base that works brilliantly but, for true 24/7 support, we believe the human touch is necessary. Deciding what days and times we needed cooperative support was easy. Whatever times we don’t staff it ourselves, we have the co-op step in. Since they use the same widgets, it’s one complete, seamless service.
[B]ut, for true 24/7 support, we believe the human touch is necessary.
Tell us a bit about the students asking questions of Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative librarians and the types of help they’re seeking. Are you noticing any trends in traffic and questions so far?
The kind of queries our students are submitting to the cooperative are not really any different to what we get to our own librarians. I guess the trends depend on what is happening at the time, and the trick is to be fluid and flexible to meet the needs of your audience – and the co-op certainly moves in sync with our audience.
Cooperative librarians do a great job of providing answers for our customers and the customer feedback on the queries they’ve dealt with is overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen some really excellent answers from the global librarians; we couldn’t have done a better job if we’d picked those up ourselves. Sometimes they’re a little less successful, but there’s always going to be some variation and they can’t do a great deal when it’s something that really requires access to our circulation system or to our IT support systems. But what’s great is that the customer is able to talk to someone 24/7 and it’s really helpful that when global staff can’t deal with it, those queries do get referred to us and customers are given some idea of when we’ll be available again to deal with their query, so they’re not left hanging.
Cooperative librarians do a great job of providing answers for our customers and the customer feedback on the queries they’ve dealt with is overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen some really excellent answers from the global librarians; we couldn’t have done a better job if we’d picked those up ourselves.
How are you able to provide the information Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative librarians need so they can answer student questions?
We’ve worked hard to create a very comprehensive FAQ knowledge base which we strive to continuously keep the content current. It’s this updating and monitoring that is one of the keys to the service. Irrelevant and/or out of date information is no help to anyone. It’s not rocket science or a dark art or anything. The global cooperative librarians can only work with what you make available to them. As we mentioned, cooperative librarians provide as good a service as our librarians and that is testament to their abilities and what we provide! It is, after all, a partnership and it makes for a seamless service for the students.
How has the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative added value to your existing chat services? Any surprising benefits?
What’s changed is we’re now providing coverage to the Academic Cooperative and I think that has been very successful so far. It’s certainly getting busier there and the numbers have been increasing every month since we started: from getting just 9 cooperative chats in April to 159 in August. Our staff are very happy supporting it, too, and say that it’s helped them develop their skills and that they find the questions from customers of other institutions varied and interesting, so that’s another win in terms of job satisfaction.
How does the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative fit into your long-term library services strategy?
The current climate has highlighted and emphasised the need for robust, high-quality virtual support and LibChat/Co-Op chat has been absolutely vital to us before and especially during the current conditions. If there were any lingering doubts to its value and effectiveness then these have been well and truly squashed. We are looking forward to expanding & developing the service as much as possible, hopefully working with other libraries & Springshare to share ideas and improve the functionality.
The current climate has highlighted and emphasised the need for robust, high-quality virtual support and LibChat/Co-Op chat has been absolutely vital to us before and especially during the current conditions.
Thank you, Joe and Gwen! We appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions. And we agree with you — there’s really no substitute for one-on-one personal interactions, especially during moments of user confusion or frustration. When a chat widget is there and online, people will use it!
Interested in learning more about the Springshare 24/7 Global Chat Cooperative?
- Peruse the Buzz guide for an overview of the LibAnswers Platform, or for details on the 24/7 Co-Op.
- Read our blog post, “LibAnswers 24/7 Cooperative: Views From the Patron Side” to learn more about those who would benefit the most from your participation in the Global Cooperative.
- Watch the 24/7 Co-Op Sneak Peek Webinar at your convenience… and don’t forget the popcorn.
- Contact us with any questions!
More than ever, 24/7 online library support can ensure your students can get the answers they need when they need them! Let us be there to help. 🙂