This week we looked at materials relating to digital reference and providing access through digital means to provide good customer service to our patrons. Website usability and ease of access is an important goal of web designers and content providers. Software like Drupal allows staff to update and manage website content in real time without web design staff intervention. Allowing staff to update the website in an easy way ensures the content is up to date for patrons and gives staff control over their areas of expertise. Providing remote access to online databases through a proxy or vpn is another consideration libraries must ensure functions correctly and allows patrons to easily connect to resources from the comfort of their home or office. Offering remote access set up virtually is a great way to help patrons gain access to library materials even when the library is closed and circulation staff are unavailable. An important point the textbook points out is that designers need to think about how patrons are accessing the website and what different resources will they be looking for when the access the website from the library, from home or on a mobile device. Designing content and layout based on user needs and community standards ensures patrons can easily find what they are looking for.
Usability testing and user needs analysis are two things that are worth the time and effort to complete. Even small usability tests with library patrons (non-staff) will help show designers the glaring flaws with the ease of use if the library website. Designing content and access points around users rather than around staff helps ease frustration from patrons who want to be able to log in to their online account to renew items, request inter library loan, access articles and find library hours. Completing a user needs analysis provides staff with valuable statistics on usage of library links and materials, looks at the areas patrons need more information or training in and can give staff ideas on how to promote the digital presence of the library. The text discusses different marketing techniques libraries use to get patrons to the library website in the first place. Marketing in a variety of formats will depend on the user base. Marketing the website on social media, in blogs, and with community outreach events can help expose users to the collections and services available online. While marketing helps users find the website, usability helps keep patrons coming back.
Providing reference in a variety of ways is beneficial for busy patrons. At UNLV we provide in person, telephone, email, text and chat reference. Our current chat platform is LibraryH3lp. This service offers both application software and cloud based capabilities. The software converts texts and chats to instant messages in one interface so staff can easily respond to users questions. I think one consideration for digital reference is to ensure the organization has a policy for what they can and cannot answer via text and to make sure privacy policies are strictly enforced via non encrypted services. At UNLV we are switching to LibAnswers by SpringShare for our chat and FAQs.
This chat service allows for easy data collection and queue’s texts and emails for workflow distribution with real time status updates that go to lead staff. This new chat software is fully cloud based and allows for canned responses to basic questions. For example if a patron chats or texts the library a question about hours the system sends an automatic message with our current hours. The system also alerts the patron if the library is currently closed, these chats and texts will go into a workflow queue for assigned staff to answer upon opening. This will be an awesome future because our current chat service receives angry and frustrated texts from overnight patrons who don’t realize our business hours include digital services as well.
Providing various means of easy access to materials is our primary goal. Technology and digital access points allows patrons to get what they need when they need it on their terms. Usability, marketing and education for patrons helps increase the use and helpfulness of the website and electronic presence of the library.