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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.

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