In response to the shutdown of in-person services, including libraries, due to COVID-19, we have been hard at work putting together a solution that will help libraries continue to fulfill their mission of providing information and services to the public by establishing their own online support platform. We have tested a range of communication and online management tools and put together a suite of products that is affordable, scalable, and integrated (enough) to allow libraries to function in a virtual environment with staff distributed in locations outside of the physical library.

Our solution allows library staff to interact with patrons securely from their respective homes by phone, email, online chat, or videoconference. These tools also provide effective management oversight for library managers who are new to managing a remote workforce. The total solution combines four state-of-the-art products:  ZenDesk, Slack, Rescue by LogMeIn, and Zoom.

Our solution centralizes all incoming support calls and help requests  into one system (based on ZenDesk).  Patrons can contact remote library workers via any method: email, telephone, text message, online chat -- even social media.  All of these requests are managed in one central application so that library workers can easily respond, no matter the communication method.  Crucially, library management can use ZenDesk to monitor staff activities, assign tasks, open and close service requests, group staff to respond to certain types of tickets, and more.

Slack is the key communication link for your remote workers, whether they are providing direct services (i.e., your Virtual Services Team) or not.  If you haven't used Slack yet, now is the time to consider using it.  It is an excellent product that enables your staff to communicate effectively, and in real-time, while working remotely.  This is a low-cost way for people providing direct services to the public to get support they need from their co-workers.

We've also integrated a remote control solution, Rescue, so that select staff can help patrons who need help on their devices (including computers, tablets AND smartphones). Patrons who would have counted on library staff to help them apply for unemployment, get FEMA assistance, shop online - whatever they are doing, the library can still be there to help.

Finally, we recommend every library purchase multiple Zoom licenses so they can provide some face-to-face communication with each other, their colleagues and their patrons. Sometimes a patron just needs to see their librarian!  While not integrated into the ZenDesk product, we think this is a key ingredient to establishing an effective virtual services platform.

With this combination of products, your staff can not only answer basic questions about whether the library is closed but the library can augment other public information channels, supplementing local hotlines where appropriate, and provide information about local conditions and emergency operations. If your staff have remote access to your ILS, they can even issue new cards, set up account access for online services, and more.

We are prepared to guide libraries through this process using ZenDesk - the same online support platform that we use to provide support to our library customers - as well as a variety of other online and phone-based communication and collaboration tools. Because we know these software tools and because we know libraries, we can quickly get your library up and running so that your staff can continue to provide services to the community that needs them more than ever.

Just because this situation is changing the way libraries - and all other organizations - operate, doesn't mean libraries need to abandon their core mission of providing information and support to their communities.  We're committed to helping you maintain fundamental principles, such as protecting patron privacy in online interactions, by following library industry best practices, and the recommendations of organizations like EFF and ALA.  We want to help you ensure your commitment to helping all community members, by encouraging awareness of accessibility services like 711/TRS that serve people with hearing impairment and speech disorders.  It's a new world, but libraries can help their patrons navigate it.

Make an appointment so we can discuss how to get your library back in business quickly even as the doors remain closed. We are offering this service on a subscription basis, understanding that libraries don't know how long they will need to offer services remotely. We are prepared to guide you through the process or we can take care of everything for you. Let us know how we can help.