Service Expectations

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Staffing the collaborative desks

  • If you are unable to cover an upcoming scheduled shift, contact your Site Coordinator and attempt to fill the schedule within your library. If it cannot be filled internally, email the AskRef Listserv to find a replacement. However, if you find out last-minute that you will not be covering a shift, or if you find yourself alone or with insufficient help on the desk, email the AskRef listserv immediately.
  • At the assigned time, you should be logged in and online on your scheduled queue. Be respectful of other statewide librarians by actively participating during your scheduled hour(s).
  • You may log in to your local library’s queue in addition to the Statewide Ask a Librarian or Academic queues you’re scheduled to cover. However, live chat and text questions through the Statewide Ask a Librarian or Academic queues are the priority during this time.
  • If a permanent schedule change needs to be made, notify your site coordinator. Site coordinators should contact Vickie Frost with any schedule change needs.
  • If your library will close for more than 2 weeks outside of Ask a Librarian’s holiday closing hours, site coordinators should contact the Help Desk for email forwarding.

Accepting users

  • All those staffing the statewide desk should be familiar with the use of the Springshare software. Consult the training materials in the Ask a Librarian Toolbox for tips and reminders.
  • While staffing the Statewide Ask a Librarian or Academic queues, you are responsible for answering chats and SMS messages coming into those queues. Email is answered by the interns, but we gladly accept any help offered.
  • Once you are logged into the Statewide Ask a Librarian or Academic queues, make an effort to find out about the other librarians on duty.
  • Preview incoming chats/texts by identifying the library and question type; however, pick up users within the first 2 minutes. Do not wait until you confirm the full answer to the question before picking up the user.
  • While staffing Ask a Librarian, you may help more than one user at a time. Handling multiple users should especially be considered in the following situations:
    • If there is only one librarian staffing.
    • If the current user’s query is simple and easy to answer and other users are waiting in the queue.
    • If a user has been waiting in the queue for longer than three minutes.
  • Use a greeting canned message for a professional introduction and provide the name of your library to distinguish between local and collaborative use of the service.

If you are still working with a user at the end of your shift:

  • At your discretion, continue to help the user if you determine that the transaction can be ended quickly.
  • If you cannot complete the transaction and Ask a Librarian is still open, transfer the user to another librarian.
  • If the question requires more in-depth research and you would like to complete the transaction with the user, obtain user’s email address and continue the transaction via email.

If you have not completed a transaction when Ask a Librarian is closing:

  • Explain the hours of service to the user. Ask if they would like to log in again tomorrow or offer to forward the chat to the user’s local library for follow-up.
  • If the question requires more in-depth research and you would like to complete the transaction with the user, obtain user’s email address and continue the transaction via email.

If the user is not a Florida resident:

  • All Florida residents should be given priority in their use of this service. While we do not prohibit use from outside the state, questions from residents should be answered first, especially during busy hours.
  • If a non-Florida resident enters the service, assist the user with simple web-based or related searches, but refer user to his/her local library (and offer contact info) for more in-depth or local needs.
  • For non-resident distance learners, assist the user with the school’s resources found in the knowledge base or with open-web sources.

If the user asks a site-specific question:

  • Use as much information you can gather from the knowledge base entry for that library.
  • If an answer cannot be formulated from the knowledge base information presented, always offer to transfer the chat to the appropriate librarian or forward the chat to the appropriate library as an email ticket. Telling the patron to call the library during open hours should be a last resort – they have chosen text-based communication as their preference by joining the chat and the transaction should be conducted as such unless no other option is available to them.
  • To access the user’s personal library account, you should guide him or her through the process of logging in by using text-based instructions. If a patron cannot log in, you should not attempt to log in yourself using the patron’s personal login information.
  • If the user does not know his/her library card number or PIN, or cannot log in for some other reason, offer to forward the chat to the user’s library, provide contact information to the user for his/her library, or follow instructions provided by his/her library in the knowledge base.

Patron Follow-up:

  • Help as far as you can, but recommend the user’s local library when necessary.
  • Offer to transfer and/or refer users to local libraries using chat transfer or email. Phone numbers should be given as a last resort – they have chosen text-based communication as their preference by joining the chat and the transaction should be conducted as such unless no other option is available to them.
  • Remember, although users are logged in to chat reference, it does not mean they need everything right now. If you explain they will get more information if you can work on it later or forward them to an expert, many will be happy with this.
  • Not all questions can be answered completely – refer the patron to relevant and reliable resources that may aid in answering their question even if it does not give a direct answer.
  • The average chat time is about 8 minutes. If you have been working with the patron for more than 20 minutes, offer to follow up by email as the question may be better answered in a long-form medium.

Non-responsive user:

While staff should attempt to maintain communication with the user and not end a chat prematurely, there are some cases where users stop communicating without notice. When this happens:

  • Send an “Are you still there?” message to the user to attempt to re-establish communication with them.
  • Monitor the animated typing keyboard icon that shows when the user is actively typing.
  • With no further activity from the patron, send a closing canned message or response with an invitation to connect with us again, and close the chat.

Closing the chat:

  • Use a closing canned message or response asking the patron if their question has been completely answered.
  • Be sure you have gathered all email or other important information if you plan to transfer the chat to an email ticket.
  • All chats end with the patron’s ability to view or print the transcript.

Inappropriate Use of Ask a Librarian

If you feel that a patron is using Ask a Librarian inappropriately – either the original question crosses the line of acceptable behavior or follow-up questions become personal/invasive or otherwise inappropriate – please do one of the following:

  • If you believe the question and underlying user behavior are legitimate but the chat is not going well, ask another librarian staffing the desk if you may transfer the user to them. Briefly inform that librarian of the situation so that they are prepared when taking over the chat.
  • When you are not certain that the inappropriateness is intentional, send the Inappropriate – No Question/Purpose Customer canned message to helps to ensure that the problem is not due to miscommunication.
  • If you choose to end the session due to the patron’s behavior, send the Inappropriate – Bad Customer canned message. You can modify the script as needed to suit the situation.
  • If the patron is threatening or overtly vulgar, send the Inappropriate – Bad Customer or Inappropriate – IP Captured canned message, mark the session using reference analytics, end the chat and notify Ask a Librarian staff.
  • Before closing an inappropriate session, mark the interaction as “Bad Patron” using Reference Analytics.

User in Crisis: Asking About Suicide, Mental Health, or Other Issues

In the event you encounter a user who is in a crisis situation who may potentially harm him/herself or others follow the guidelines below. It may be difficult to distinguish a prank from a real situation; assume it is real and provide professional contacts for the user. Do not attempt to counsel or advise the user.

  • As quickly as possible, provide the user with online resources including phone and online contacts to professionals who can assist the patron. These are available as canned messages.
  • After you send the canned message, phone number and/or the websites, do not engage with the customer. Thank the customer for using Ask a Librarian, and exit from the session so that the customer can contact the hotlines and get the help they need.

Customer Service Standards

  • Remain friendly and approachable, and act in a manner that encourages users to ask for clarification.
  • Call the person by name. Personalizing the conversation will help everyone keep perspective.
  • Restate the question if needed to ensure that you and the user are on the same page.
  • Engage the patron by asking open-ended questions.
  • Be patient with slow replies; there may be a slow connection, poor reading/typing skills, etc.
  • Use canned messages, customizing when necessary or appropriate.
  • Give frequent and positive feedback as you conduct the reference interview.
  • Empathize and show interest in transaction: I see; I understand; That’s an interesting question.
  • Do not use all caps; use *asterisks* for emphasis on a word if needed.
  • Engage the user in conversation, and send updates every 2-3 minutes or so: Still searching…; I am going to pull a book, I will be back in two minutes; Sorry for the delay; the web page is loading slowly; Didn’t find it there, so now I’m trying Resource X.
  • Break long messages into chunks so user gets several chat messages instead of one long message.
  • Use authoritative sources when possible, cite sources, and offer details of how it was retrieved or found.
  • Send a closing message before releasing the chat.
  • Reply to their specific question, and be aware of a hesitancy to ask for clarification.
  • Avoid terse, cold, or negative language, such as: You should have or Why didn’t you. Never imply that the patron should have been able to handle the situation themselves.
  • Let the user blow-off steam, but do not take abuse.
  • Never blame other staff or another library.
  • Remain impartial and avoid emotionally charged or liability-prone wording.

Texting (SMS)

  • Answer SMS messages when covering the Statewide Ask a Librarian or Collaborative queues as they come into the chat dashboard.
  • When clarification is needed, try offering general information with your refining request.
  • Not all users have unlimited texting and/or Internet access on their phones, so be aware of how many responses you are sending. Springshare’s text option has a character limit of 150 per message.
  • SMS messages should be answered within 12 hours of receiving the question.
  • Site coordinators should set the SMS auto response to notify patrons if they send a text outside of monitored hours.
  • A text-string time may be set to break up questions from the same patron that are asked across different days.

Email

  • Email responses should be sent within 48 hours from the time the question was asked.
  • Tickets should be closed if no further information is needed from the patron or if a patron hasn’t responded within 72 hours. *Even if the ticket is closed, the patron will still have the ability to respond to the email.
  • When transferring an email ticket to another library, add a note that explaining the transfer reason.
  • Only claim a ticket if you intend to answer the question. If you have opened an email but don’t wish to answer, be sure to “Unclaim” it so others will know it requires attention.
  • If your library will be closed for more than 2 weeks and no one will be monitoring the queue, notify the Help Desk.

Privacy

  • Ask a Librarian is committed to keeping personal information private. In order to provide effective assistance, we do ask for a name and e-mail address; however, users do not have to provide this information to receive services.
  • Additional information, such as status – middle school student, college student, etc. – and library of access may be gathered to more efficiently analyze questions, direct our responses, or recommend appropriate reference or research resources. Personal information gathered before and during a session is considered confidential and will only be used to respond to a question and obtain statistical data.

Communication

  • Refer to the News and Announcement emails from Kelly for important information regarding holidays, software updates, and more.
  • If you are unable to cover an upcoming scheduled shift, contact your Site Coordinator and attempt to fill the need within your library. If it cannot be filled internally, email the AskRef listserv to find a replacement. However, if you find out last-minute that you will not be covering a shift, or if you find yourself alone or with insufficient help on the desk, email the AskRef listserv immediately.
  • Use Ask a Librarian marketing materials – both print (bookmarks, posters, etc.) and online (buttons, widgets, logos, etc.) to promote the service to your users.
Updated Nov 2018