Why chat to a librarian?

embarrassed photo“The librarian at the enquiry desk is always busy! There’s so much noise and bustle…I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on what they were telling me anyway. I wish I could ask someone in a calm, quiet environment…”

“I don’t like approaching enquiry desks, it feels embarrassing not to know what I’m doing. I wish there was a way I could ask for help without people seeing me…”

“I don’t understand how to use this database. I wish I could ask someone without leaving the computer it’s taken me an hour to find!”

We’ve all been there. There’s something we really want to ask the person in the shop/bank/office but we don’t want to make a fool of ourselves. We think our question is silly, that we should know the answer already. Besides, there are lots of people around, and that person is really busy.

We’ve been shopping online, and the information on the website is confusing. We want to be able to ask someone what it means.

Online chat is perfect for these situations (and many others). Our online chat service is operated alongside the main phoneline into the library on weekdays between 9am and 5pm, by staff from the Enquiries and User Services teams.

I really like the way we’ve set up the phone and chat area. It’s not somewhere our customers will ever see, but it’s perfect for us to work from. We have two computers, one networked, and one which operates as if we were off-campus. The off-campus PC is invaluable for checking out issues people might be having with access to resources. There’s also a phone, we have the option of using a headset if we find this useful, and the desk is tucked away at the back of the User Services work area, so we’re not disturbed by people passing by.

Being on chat “duty” is a bit like being on an information desk, just with invisible people asking the questions. Anything and everything is asked, and you never quite know what you’ll get. Phone calls have dropped significantly since self-service came along, so running it alongside chat makes sense – all the “virtual” enquiries are received in the same place. The robust referrals procedure we have can kick in if needed, so whatever we are asked we can either give the answer or refer it to someone else who can. Embedding this into the culture of the Enquiries and User Services teams has enabled us all to feel far more confident with the huge range of enquiries that we receive.

Chat is a service in development. We’re still using the simple software we launched the service with, but we’ve seen some amazing tools out there which we’d love to adopt. Programmes which would let us share browser screens with our invisible customers, and see what they’re seeing, for example. Having the ability to use a cursor to point to something for them rather than having to describe where they should be clicking would, I suspect, but hugely helpful to both us and the customer.

What we would really like though, was if more people used chat to talk to us. There are so many things we could be helping with; referencing, finding information, renewals, accessing e-resources… We’re ready and waiting to chat!


Using the Chat with a Librarian icon from any Library webpage you can chat to a member of library staff from the comfort of your own home, a cafe, the train,  or anywhere else you can use the internet! Our chat service is operated from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, giving you access to help and advice without needing to come to the Library.

Photo by mloberg

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