Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Become Part of the Ask a Librarian App

We'd like to invite all libraries to become part of the new Ask a Librarian App currently undergoing beta testing. Ask A Librarian is a mobile app that we've developed in conjunction with our back-up service partner, Chatstaff, that connects patrons to a library's reference services, including chat, texting, email, and frequently asked questions. Any library or library consortium, regardless of software platform, can be included in Ask a Librarian at no charge.

What does the Ask a Librarian app do?

When patrons aren't sure what libraries are nearby, they can use the browse function that locates nearby libraries or libraries around a particular  location. Patrons can also search for their favorite library by name.  The app remembers the libraries patrons have visited previously so they can quickly revisit those libraries and pick up where they left off. And patrons can favorite and revisit libraries later.

Each library listing summarizes available virtual reference services. These services may include real-time chat with librarians, text a librarian, phone a librarian, email a librarian, and frequently asked questions. Libraries can also include a customized avatar, a website link and additional free-form information such as operating hours.

How can I test drive the Ask a Librarian app?

For Android, use the Google Play beta link to download the app to your device.

For iOS, send us a request by email and then we'll be able can send you an emailed beta invite through Apple. The Ask a Librarian app itself works with iOS 6 and higher.  But while the app is in beta testing, it is only available through Test Flight which requires iOS 8 and higher.

How can my library be included in the Ask a Librarian app?

Send us email indicating your interest and we'll set you up with a default, unpublished listing.  From there, you can edit the listing to suit and publish it when you're ready. Any library or library consortium, regardless of software platform, can be included in Ask a Librarian at no charge.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Adding a 'Click to Chat' or 'Ask a Librarian' tab to your Web Page

Chat tabs are a handy option for consistent chat help placement, especially when page real estate is dear. With LibraryH3lp, you can easily create a tab with customized wording that opens a chat widget when a guest clicks it. You also control the offline appearance of the tab and can direct guests to email, an email contact form, or your FAQ when your service is unavailable.

It only takes a bit of extra styling to transform your LibraryH3lp service into a tab. And no worries if you don't know anything about CSS or HTML. Our step-by-step tab guide walks you through it.  You need only cut and paste the styles.

LibraryH3lp website 'Click to Chat' tab

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Easy-to-Update Public Announcements for any Web Page

Need a quick and easy way to manage announcements on a web page? You know, something that non-technical staff could use to update content on high-profile web pages without needing to touch the web page itself. Happily, your LibraryH3lp-powered FAQ lets you do just that.

Simply add a question to your FAQ site whose answer is the announcement content you wish to embed.  Then use the answer-only embed option to auto-magically include the announcement content within your web page.  From there, you and your colleagues need only update the answer content to keep your web page up-to-date with the latest information.

You can use your FAQ for all sorts of announcements...
  • General announcements or updates
  • Library news items
  • Database, catalog, or any other statuses, including outages and planned maintenance
  • Weather-related closings or hours changes
  • Emergency situations and directions
How are you using your FAQ?  We'd love to hear about it!  Please add a comment below or e-mail us.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

New FAQ customization options

FAQ sites received an update this weekend.  This update brings the ability to customize the wording for everything that shows up for users viewing your FAQ.  This is especially important because it means that the public view of a FAQ in a non-English language can be fully translated now, with no pesky English-language default system components in view. And of course, if your FAQ is in English, you can now fully customize all of the default labels.

These new customizations build on functionality previously available within FAQ templates. Specifically:
  1. To customize the 'Not finding what you need? Contact us' phrase, add this to your base.html template somewhere within the BODY element:

    <div id="contact-us" style="display:none">Custom text</div>
  2. To customize the 'Ask Us!' button in the instant search results, add this to your base.html template somewhere within the BODY element:

    <div id="ask-us" style="display:none">Custom text</div>
  3. To customize the 'All' topic in the search.html template, you'll need to update the 'All' wording in the #current-topic element then you'll need add the following to the base.html template:

    <div id="all-topics" style="display:none">Customization</div>
New to LibraryH3lp FAQs? The LibraryH3lp FAQ module lets you create your own custom external or internal (password-protected) searchable, browseable knowledgebase. You get unlimited independent FAQ sites with your LibraryH3lp subscription. FAQs are simple to build and if you have an existing FAQ outside of LibraryH3lp, we can help you import it. 

Want to see what others have done with the LibraryH3lp FAQ module? Check out our Pinterest board showcasing super neat FAQ customizations. And let us know if you have a FAQ you'd like to see included in the Pinterest board.  We'd love to add it!

Monday, July 27, 2015

New Webclient Auto-Logout Feature

Big news!  You can now set a duration for your webclient login.  This way, if you forget to logout at the end of a shift, you won't leave your chat service falsely online for a long period of time.

The auto-logout option appears at the bottom of the "Choose Staffing Assignments" dialog that appears when you log into the webclient for staffing.

After the login duration is reached, you'll be alerted and given a chance to extend and/or modify the timeout.  If you don't respond within a minute (because you are actually gone for the day or maybe you've wandered away while helping a patron), the webclient will log you out.

What if you don't enable auto-logout and accidentally leave yourself signed in?

If you realize you've left yourself logged into the webclient on a computer you cannot physically access, you can opt yourself out of your queues. Sign into the webclient from another location and opt yourself out using the regular queue selection box. This will opt you out of your queues from all locations no matter what software client you are using. Phew! Then, logout as usual. You'll be able to opt yourself back in when it's time for your next shift.

An administrator can also opt users out of queues. In the users management page (US, CA, EU, SG), select the user in question and uncheck the boxes next to the queue assignments to temporarily unassign users as operators on a queue.

What if you use another software client to staff your LibraryH3lp service?  

If you staff your service through another XMPP (Jabber) client such as Pidgin or Adium, no worries. Locally installed desktop clients usually have great support for automatic setting of Away status based on keyboard/mouse idle time. So with these clients, you can prevent yourself from falsely holding the service online easily.

But if you happen to not have auto-away enabled, or if the trigger is a long way off, you can still use the admin dashboard or webclient to opt out of your queues. Just follow the steps in the section right above this one.

Concierge auto-replies

One related note. You can also have automated replies based on a lengthy wait time for your guests. This helps cover things not only if your service has been left online accidentally, but also in case your operators can't respond as quickly as usual for any other reason.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Maximize Your Ask a Librarian Coverage

In the last post, we shared a checklist designed to whip your Ask a Librarian service into shape.  We included tips and strategies for maximizing and invigorating chat, texting, knowledge base, and email services.  In this post, we wanted to focus on personal interactions between librarians and patrons and share some ideas on how you can most strategically maximize Ask a Librarian coverage.

When you boil it down, expanding real-time Ask a Librarian coverage means people.  And once you start talking about adding people, everyone starts talking about budget.  The good news is that there are ways to maximize coverage without breaking the bank, and a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way.

Make sure the busiest hours are covered

Before spending a dime on more, why not make sure you are squeezing every last bit of benefit from what you have now? Sometimes you can assist more patrons just by experimenting with schedule.

Let me introduce you to the LibraryH3lp Chats per Hour report.  It contains everything you need to make the perfect Ask a Librarian staffing schedule.  Here's a sample Chats per Hour report using the LibraryH3lp support chat queue as an example:

The report covers each day of the week and shows which hours are busiest.  Either Pam or I are usually available on our customer support chat line from 8am to 5pm on weekdays (and, yes, sometimes later and on weekends).  But we'd still get pretty good bang for the buck by only covering 11am to 4pm Monday through Friday.  This makes sense, because our customers are library staff and primarily work on managing their LH3 services during regular business hours.

The situation with students and other patrons using library resources is a different matter, of course! With library patrons, you certainly have much longer useful service hours since libraries are all about research and education, and students of all sorts often work late into the night.

Also remember that this Chats Per Hour analysis can only show you traffic trends for when you service is actually online and open for business.  Well, then, how are you supposed to tell which hours you are NOT currently covering would be appreciated by your patrons?  We have you covered. It turns out that this data is pretty consistent.

We looked at some aggregate Chats Per Hour data for a few true 24/7 services on LibraryH3lp, corrected for time zone, and you can see the general trends in this chart:

Chats-per-hour for several academic libraries with 24/7 LH3 services.

This basic pattern is typical for per-hour chat activity when the service is available at all times.  You can look at this and see if you'd like to extend your hours beyond those that you are able to cover in-house.  For example, if you close up shop at 5pm, you will certainly make a lot of people happy by adding a few more hours and staying available until 8, 9, 10, 11pm, etc...  And Sunday coverage is a huge win.

To run the Chats per Hour report on your own service: just pick your server's region - US, CA, EU, SG. You might find that resources currently being used for chat are better applied at different times or even elsewhere. If you are already dealing with limited chat hours, try keeping your busiest hours staffed and experiment by reinvesting the lower-traffic hours at new time slots.

Hire backup staffing

Let's assume you want to extend your chat service hours, but your existing staff are stretched to the max already, and it's not worth it to hire dedicated after-hours staff just for your own library. What now? One excellent option is Chatstaff. You can be up and running quickly, plus the service quality is extremely high, with wait times currently averaging less than 15 seconds (yes, you read that right!). All of the Chatstaff librarians have MLS degrees.

And, about that budget: with Chatstaff, you can be brutally efficient by homing in on the specific hours of coverage you'd like to have.  So if you only want a few hours hours here and there, Chatstaff can do that.  Or if you wanted the whole 24/7 enchilada, Chatstaff can do that too.  And pricing is fair: those very low-traffic times in the wee hours of the morning are not priced the same as busier hours.  So you will probably be pleasantly surprised at your return on investment for substantially increasing your service hours.

If you'd like, Chatstaff can even be available as your secret weapon during the day, to cover those times when all of your own librarians are busy, in meetings, a whole ton of chats just came in at once, a lot of people are out sick, etc... You can email Chatstaff directly for a quote.

Find a partner

Collaboration is another great way to expand Ask a Librarian staffing. Partner libraries can work together to provide longer combined coverage than each could provide individually. LibraryH3lp makes collaboration easy on the budget since there is no additional software cost beyond your current subscription.  And all the tools you'd use for your in-house service are also available for the collaboration, including transfer between partner libraries.  If you are interested in learning a bit more, check out our earlier blog post on grassroots collaboration and our latest doc showing how to join separate LibraryH3lp accounts.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Whip Your Ask a Librarian Service into Shape

Summer is almost upon us!  It's time for vacations and recharging your batteries. It's also a great opportunity to find some time to finally tackle that ever-growing "to do" list. To help with all those virtual service tweaks that you've been meaning to get to, we've created a checklist that is sure to recharge and maximize your virtual services.  Also available in PDF format.

Ask a Librarian Check List

  • checkboxIs help available anywhere a patron might need assistance?  
    • Action item: Check all the usual places: website, subject guides, catalogs, databases, mobile apps.
    • Action item: Search for web pages off the beaten path.  For example, the 404 (not found) page is a great spot to include a chat widget or FAQ link to help lost patrons.
  • checkboxCan patrons easily locate chat and FAQs on your web pages with just a glance?
    • Pro tip: Place advertisements for these 'above the fold.'  That is, the portion of a web page that is visible without scrolling.  Page headers or 'Click to chat' tabs are a super place for attractive chat images.  Aim for a consistent, highly visible place where patrons can always find help.
    • Action item: Catch the patron's eye with a modernized chat widget or a shiny new Ask a Librarian image.  Need inspiration? Check out these great examples from your peers: Ask a Librarian images, Ask a Librarian chat widgets
  • checkboxDo you proactively invite patrons to chat?  
    • Pro tip: Many LibraryH3lp clients offering timer-based chat invitations to patrons report significantly increased meaningful chat stats.  
    • Action item: Update your LibraryH3lp services to include a customizable proactive chat invitation. The average time among LibraryH3lp clients for the invitation's time trigger is 40 seconds.
  • checkboxDo staff consistently and quickly greet chat patrons?  
    • Pro tip: One way to evaluate this is to grab your chat metadata over a date range and then click the wait time column header to sort chats by wait time.
    • Action item: Create canned messages for operators to use when responding to patrons.
    • Action item: Set up one or more concierge auto-responders which trigger a simple greeting after a second or two, and/or send alternative contact information if patrons go unanswered for a lengthier period of time.
  • checkboxCan patrons get help after hours?
    • Action item: When chat is offline, point patrons to your searchable FAQ.  Need to import an existing FAQ into LibraryH3lp?  Email us and we'll make it happen.
    • Action item: Interested in extending your chat service hours, but your staff are stretched too thin? Consider incorporating backup staffing through Chatstaff.  Chatstaff provides responsive, high quality service, and you can specify your service hours to maximize the bang for your buck.

Text a Librarian Check List

  • checkboxDo patrons know about your Text a Librarian service?
    • Action item: Include your Text a Librarian number on your website and make it easy for mobile patrons to click.  Here's an example of some handy HTML that does the trick:
      <a href="tel:15555551234">Text us at 1-555-555-1234!</a>
    • Action item: Include your Text a Librarian number on all printed promotional materials.
    • Action item: Promote your Text a Librarian number during tours and instruction sessions.
  • checkboxIs your offline auto-response appropriate?
    • Pro tip: If you include a (shortened) URL, patrons on smartphones can click it to launch a browser.  Point patrons to your searchable FAQ or email contact form.
    • Action item: Pretend you are a patron and text your service when it is offline.  If the offline auto-response misses the mark, email us with a new auto-response 140 characters or fewer.

Email a Librarian Check List

  • checkboxIs email reference integrated with the rest of your virtual services? 
    • Action item: Activate the 3mail module to integrate email into the staffing workflow. 3mail is a simple email system that makes the LibraryH3lp webclient one stop shopping for answering chat and email questions. 
    • Action item: Train staff to use Tag for Follow-up.  When chats can't be answered right away and you need to get back to the patron, tag for follow-up automatically sends email to pre-designated addresses with transcript attached.

Want a printable version of this checklist?  Download the PDF version!