We shared a story about City Library back in June of 2018 that highlights the work that Lucy Clifford and the amazing librarians do using LibGuides CMS both for their students and as an intranet. After an incredibly demanding year, we decided to touch base with this dedicated team operating in one of the most challenging parts of the world right now.
Q: Can you share your story about when your library learned it would have to close its doors?
A: It was becoming clear from late February into early March 2020 that things were moving fast and that the Summer term was going to be quite different. But the University’s decision to close (just ahead of the government shutdown) was still a bit of a sudden one.
As we’d been using LibChat for six years, we had every confidence that we could continue to run that service remotely. LibAnswers was a bigger leap of faith though – we had several different shared email accounts being used by various teams to engage with users and respond to their queries. At the start of 2020, we set ourselves a target of flipping this over to LibAnswers by the summer and getting all our incoming emails routed there to improve how we handle enquiries and give us as a more efficient way of passing these on to colleagues and monitoring progress.
We had just started mapping out how we would do this – in a gradual and cautious way, as librarians tend to do. Then with lockdown looming, we decided we had to jump quickly so within a few days our User Services team and our amazing Systems Librarian managed to get queues set up and instructions pulled together.
Q: What were your priorities when pivoting to an entirely online presence?
A: We had an aspiration for a while to extend our chat service into the evenings and weekends, so with the libraries closed it gave an ideal opportunity to train up the staff who would normally be on library duty at those times to work on LibAnswers.
Our library opening hours have had to be reduced slightly this year but we have extended our chat coverage into the evenings and weekends. This has confirmed that there is definitely user demand for online enquiry support at these times so we will be factoring this into how we plan our service model for evening and weekend opening in the future.
The LibAnswers Platform has truly robust features for gathering statistics and analyzing them with quick filters. You can extract what you need from the system and look at the data in a variety of ways. Springshare has been hearing from libraries all over the world that their usage numbers saw a dramatic uptick because of the pandemic's restrictions. City Library shares their story.
Q: Can you share any surprising statistics from a year-over-year perspective that shows the difference the pandemic made on how students reached out to you?
A: There has been a big jump in LibAnswers/LibChat usage for us - the volume of chat enquiries has more than doubled. Some comparative data from 2019/20 v 2020/21 illustrates this:
We’ve also been really pleased to see more user engagement with the feedback element in LibChat – engagement with the rating feature has improved, e.g. 19% of online chat enquiries received feedback in Jan/Feb 2020, 27.5% in Jan/Feb 2021. And the quality is still there – 98% of the rated chats scored Good/Excellent.
Q: What sorts of lessons did you learn about your team?
A: It confirmed that we have a very resilient team, ready to adapt to challenges while working collaboratively to support each other, share tips and pass on learning points. We’ve worked with a great trainer over the last few years who has regularly delivered sessions for our library team on good customer service. This has been adapted into a more focused session called Delivering Excellent Customer Service Online.
We recognized that as well as having the know-how around how to claim chats, how to turns chats into tickets and all the rest of the LibAnwers/Chat functionality, giving our team some tips and a chance to think about what works and what doesn’t work when engaging remotely with library users was really important.
We can never envision all of the ways libraries might be using our solutions. Derek shared a fun story with us about an issue that the pandemic lockdown brought to their door. Derek recalled, "One of our other big post-lockdown challenges was around trying to recover all the library books out on loan to students who had suddenly moved away from London –either with or without the books they had borrowed from the library."
It was great for us to be able to manage our liaison with these students, often over several months, through LIbAnswers tickets as this meant different members of our team could quickly and easily see the dialogue we’d had and keep them updated.
Derek said, "We set up a Freepost returns service to recover library books and we were able to disseminate labels for this through LibAnswers tickets."
Q: Is there anything that you discovered as you adjusted to the challenges of the last year that you plan to keep doing going forward?
A: We are certainly hoping that the 2021/22 academic year will be more like what we used to regard as normal. But LibChat is likely to remain the primary focus for our frontline enquiry service - we want to see our library staff back on our help desks and roving the library floor to support our users but we are likely to be advertising online chat at least on an equal footing with our traditional help desk services.
Derek shares some fine news:
Our annual compliance review for the Customer Service Excellence Standard was completed in October 2020 – pleasingly our assessor commented on how much our library users had benefitted from our service adapting to LibAnswers and that this had maintained service quality during the pandemic.
Springshare also hopes libraries worldwide will find a way to safely reopen and get back to the business of assisting their patrons and providing the welcoming environment they've missed with the lockdowns. The library team at City, University of London's agile response to the restrictions is a brilliant example of their collaboration and creativity.