Monday, April 14, 2014

Get proactive with your virtual reference

You've probably been on a website that not only includes a chat option on the page but also proactively invites you to chat after you've spent some time on the page. Love it or hate it, this technique can increase patron engagement (Zhang and Mayer, 2014). We've created a guide for anyone interested in exploring the technique with patrons on their website.

Broken down, the three main components are:
  1. A presence (availability) check to make sure that your chat queue is online before prompting the user to chat.  After all, we don't want to risk annoying the user if we're not online to help.
  2. A timer to control the amount of time that will elapse before the chat invitation is presented. Zhang and Mayer's paper reports success using three minutes - substantially longer than many commercial websites.
  3. A graphical dialog to control the appearance of the chat invitation.  This part can be heavily customized, and we've made three different styles for starting places.

Three examples, from left to right:
floating embedded widget, custom "chat now" button image, "click to chat" dialog box button.

Want to give it a spin? Start with the examples on our documentation page. You'll find heavily commented code that you can tweak and extend to suit your own purposes. We've even cooked up some working demo pages so that you can try it out. The chat widget on these pages connects to a simple bot that replies with Ron Swanson quotes so that it will always be online for testing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Webchat client beta improvements. Keep that feedback coming!

Last week, we released a completely revamped webclient for staffing as a beta. So far it has been a big hit! We've received many positive comments and suggestions for improvement, which we've folded into the beta:

  • Most recent message is included as part of the page title.
  • Alternating favicons in browser tab provide a subtle visual alerting for new messages.
  • Block unruly patrons even after the guest closes the chat widget.
  • Chat metadata includes indicator when patron is text messaging. And a character countdown appears to the right of the chat management toolbar to help you compose shorter responses to texting patrons. 
  • Added guard against empty buddy nicknames in your contacts list.
  • Added an erase message history button for chats sent directly to you, via colleagues on your buddy list or via widgets that contact you personally instead of a queue.  Reminder: these direct IMs are never logged in Activity. The erase message history button lets you instantly clear your current chat window of the prior conversation.

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback thus far. Please keep your suggestions coming. 

Haven't had a chance to try it yet? Give it a spin - Main US serverCanadian serverEuropean serverSingapore server

Monday, March 31, 2014

Completely revamped webclient - Now in Beta!

Recently we helped you freshen up the look and feel of your virtual service with a chat widget makeover. Now its time for us to follow our own advice. Today, we are excited to announce the beta release of a completely revamped webclient for staff!

Beta webclient. One chat in main chat workspace and two pinned in sidebar. New chat flagged in contacts list on left.

Give it a spin!

Summary of features

The revamped webclient has all the bells and whistles to which you are already accustomed in our
original webchat client as well as exciting new features (with more to come!) and a fresh look and feel. Here are some highlights:

  • Customizable settings 
    • Configurable sound notifications (oh yes, we did!)
    • Chat font size controls
    • Nicknames
    • Avatars
    • Desktop notifications in Chrome and Firefox (FF no longer requires a plugin)
  • Improved workflow
    • Large main area for your current chat
    • Right sidebar to pin other chats you wish to keep visible
    • Minimize inactive chats to hide from view
    • New chats are clearly marked as such in contacts list
    • New message indicators in contacts list, navigation menu, and page title
    • Short, anonymous guest IDs by default (operator can re-name guests)
  • Integrated profiles.  You can browse profile content even without an active chat.

The revamped webclient workflow aims to save chat operators time. The main, central workspace represents a single chat and the focus of your attention in that particular moment. Additional new chats arrive minimized, but with plenty of visual and audible notification, and are available for pinning with a single click. Your time and energy are spent on the guest rather than re-arranging your workspace and fiddling with overlapping chat windows. But the new layout goes beyond window arrangement: it imparts a sense of prioritization, supported and automated by the software.

Please give the new webclient a try and let us know how we can improve it! We'll fold your feedback into the final version.  Both the new and old clients will operate in parallel through the end of the year to allow ample time for transition and staff training.

And of course, with LibraryH3lp, you're not locked into staffing through a web browser.  XMPP-based chat clients like Pidgin and Adium continue to be excellent tools for staffing your VR service.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Does your chat widget need makeover?

Is your old chat widget starting to look old and worn out? Well, we're taking away any excuse not to update your look! We've created over 20 sharp-looking example chat widgets that you can easily copy and extend. Or maybe your widget just needs a touch of polish? Then consider one of the new presence themes, adding a watermark, or even including a survey.

Copy one of our schnazzy example widgets

Do any of these pique your interest? Then head on over to the Widgets tab of the admin site to grab a copy. Once copied, you can use the widget editor to change the colors and pretty much anything else about the widget to make it your own. Skip to the end of this post for a quick how-to on copying example widgets.

Have a super-awesome chat widget you'd like to share? Contact us to include it as an example!

Schnazzier widgets by default

When you create a new chat widget (as opposed to copying one of the examples), you'll get a light-colored widget with a modern flat look and dark icons.  And of course via the widget designer, you can further change colors, add branding, presence themes, and more.

LibraryH3lp support widget, from left to right: original icon set, new dark icon set, new light icon set.

Updated presence themes

We've updated the library of presence themes.  Remember, presence themes provide a dynamic indicator to your guests of your virtual service's availability. Updating your presence theme is a great way to freshen up your widget's look while leaving your current styling untouched.

LibraryH3lp support chat widget sporting the text-english-large theme.

Background images

Background images are slick way to provide visual effects or to introduce branding associated with your library, school, or non-profit organization.

Background images, from left to right: branding in widget header area, large watermark image for decoration, small watermark logo for branding, repeating color image at top of header for two-toned overhang effect.

Links for surveys or other pages

Awhile back, we partnered with librarians from University of Minnesota Duluth to share their great technique for embedding a link to a survey in their chat widgets. You can use this same technique to link off to any other page: maybe for service policies, a FAQ, or important announcements.

Survey link is available to the guest at all times and opens in new window or tab.

How to copy the example widgets

In the LibraryH3lp admin site, go to the Widgets tab.  Create a New Widget and look for the Copy from example widget field. Pick your favorite and you're all set!

Want to change the colors, provide your own images, or otherwise tweak it to suit your web page? All of that's a snap using our widget editor.  Many of the exciting customizations we've covered in this blog post will be tweaked in the Wicked CSS Hacks field.

You can also review our more detailed documentation on using background images and providing clickable links or images in widget titles.

Browse over 20 widgets to get started!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

FAQ module improvements!

We've just completed a round of FAQ module improvements and would like to send a big "Thank you!" to everyone who provided feedback and bug reports! Here are a few new feature highlights...

  • E-mails sent by patrons from your FAQ now use the patron's e-mail address as the "reply-to", making integration with e-mail ticketing systems a snap.
  • For FAQs that require authentication to access, your page will automatically refresh with the unlocked content upon successful login.
  • In-place editing of FAQs now includes topic rename and delete en masse via the right sidebar's tag cloud.
  • In-place editing of questions and templates now includes revision history!  Browse the last 10 changes, see when they were made and by who, and revert back if needed with a single click.
  • And though not a new feature, a quick reminder that you can embed your FAQ in any web page in addition to having guests use it standalone.

Revision history lets you easily step through all changes to answer text (and template code). 
You can also see which user made each change, and when they did so.

If you are new to the FAQ module and are interested in getting your feet wet, we've created a brand new 'Getting started' installment dedicated to building your first FAQ. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Are you doing enough for mobile patrons?

Smartphones are rarely beyond an arm's reach these days and frequently in-hand. Though living in the US National Radio Quiet Zone has made me the exception, even I carry a smartphone away from home. There's an app for everything and a browser available when an app isn't. So patrons all but expect the library to be available at the touch of a finger. How do you provide virtual reference services for patrons on the go? Are you doing enough?

There are 3 key areas for mobile - texting, apps, and browsers. Provide service in all three areas and you'll maximize your virtual reference coverage.

Text messaging

Can patrons text their reference questions to your library? Text messaging is a huge part of mobile and also a big contributor to the well-toned thumb muscles of our youth today. Texting can, in a few finger strokes, do for patrons what it may take several clicks (read: tens of seconds) to do on a website. Integrate texting with your reference desk's voice number to maximize your availability in a patron's contact list.

LibraryH3lp's SMS add-on will make you look like a text messaging superstar. Incoming text messages appear just like any other chat and can be transferred between librarians. Voice calls are forwarded to your reference desk and after-hours texts are automatically delivered when you are next online. And as an extra bonus, it integrates nicely with Google Voice SMS.

Include real-time chat in your library app

Like texting, chat inside apps provide a handy way to exchange messages in just a few touch strokes. Maybe your library has a custom app created with a platform like Boopsie for Libraries? LibraryH3lp is Boopsie-compatible and our mobile-optimized chat widgets can be inserted anywhere you can place HTML. Speaking of mobile widgets... Let's talk browsers.

Chat & self services for mobile browsers

Rounding out the trifecta of mobile virtual reference coverage is the browser. So you've gone through all the trouble to create a super schnazzy responsive library website. Drawing "ohhs" and "ahhs" from all who visit. Let's add an extra layer of icing, shall we? A sexy, mobile-optimized chat widget and searchable knowledge base will be sure to turn a few heads.

An embedded widget (inserted into the content of a web page) is dandy for patrons using a desktop or laptop. But a smartphone? Not so much. Even sharp eyes have trouble seeing something that small. Not to mention that accessibility and usability is an ever-present concern. Add a customized pop-up or follow-me chat widget to your website and LibraryH3lp will auto-magically transform it into a mobile-optimized, real estate maximizing version for iOS and Android users. 

But don't stop with chat. Complement your interactive services with self services like a knowledge base/FAQ. With FAQs, help is always available even after hours. Each LibraryH3lp subscription includes unlimited individual FAQs and questions and comes preloaded with a built-in mobile-specific interface for smart phones. (See it in action with our FAQ.)

So let patrons choose their favorite mobile tool. With LibraryH3lp, you'll be ready and waiting whether it be texting, apps, or browser. Contact us at if you need any help configuring your mobile services or are interested in a no risk trial of our SMS add-on.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Google Voice SMS + LibraryH3lp

Using Google Voice SMS for text messaging at your library? You can forward those incoming text messages from patrons to LibraryH3lp! When you include LibraryH3lp's SMS add-on with your subscription, text messages sent to your Google Voice number will appear instantly as chats to all librarians staffing your virtual reference service.  And, text messages can be transferred just like any other chat in LibraryH3lp.

If your service is offline when the text message comes in, the patron will receive your customized offline auto-response.  You'll receive the patron's message the next time that queue comes online, along with a note indicating how long ago the patron originally sent the text.

If you're staffing with our webchat client, LibraryH3lp will detect that your patron is coming in on a phone number, and you'll get a character countdown to assist librarians in making shorter replies.

Incoming text message in the LibraryH3lp webchat client.

Already have the LibraryH3lp SMS add-on and want to fold in your Google Voice SMS number?Contact us at for step-by-step instructions on how to set up forwarding.

Interested in a no-risk trial of the SMS add-on? Google Voice SMS forwarding is just one of the many features available. Contact us at to get started. Our SMS packages are very affordable; the $50 package sees most libraries through a full year of service.