When your digital library users run into problems, how can they get help?
Digital libraries have been launched without realizing that help must be available when the user needs it. Users don't want to wait until "normal" business hours in order to get assistance, especially if the information need is immediate. The problem is that libraries (digital or otherwise) often don't want to stretch their staff so it's available 24/7. So what can you do?
- Ask your vendors if they can provide support for their own products. Don't assume that they can't provide support. Ask...and of course ask about the cost. (BTW you may prompt a vendor to start or expand a service that could benefit many of its users.)
- Consider cooperating with other libraries in other time zones to extend the hours of support. This is already being done for "Ask Us" services such as the one run by the Western NY Library Resources Council. They note that "...this is an around the clock service staffed not only by librarians from Western New York, but also with librarians from across the country filling in when WNY librarians can't be on the desk." Having a cooperative arrangement will take some planning so that questions on the right products/services are asked of people who are not at your library.
You might consider joining such a service that can handle the type of support questions your digital library receives rather than building your own.
- Hire a team to specifically provide support during the off-hours. Considering talking to a library consulting firm or a help desk group about providing end-user help when your staff isn't available. Yes, you may have to provide some training and probably some QA (quality assurance) in order to ensure that the group understands and does what is needed. (Actually you should do that with a couple of the suggestions listed here.)
- Work with a library/information school to have its students provide this service as part of an internship or class. An I-School might see (should see) this as a real opportunity to provide a real-world learning experience for its students while also providing a needed service for libraries.
- Rearrange the work hours of your library staff to extend the hours of support. Yes, I'm suggestion stretching or rearranging your staff, even though you don't want to do it. Although this may seem like it will take away from your "normal" hours of operation, it may provide flexibility that could be beneficial. It's worth seriously thinking about before calling it a bad idea. (Both Douglas Zyskowski of the Southfield Public Library and Ed Rivenburgh of SUNY Geneseo have noted that libraries should shift workers to be available less in the daytime and more in the evening when the library is more heavily used.)
However you do it, you need to ensure that users can get questions answered in real-time. If you make them wait, it is likely that they will become dissatisfied and go elsewhere to locate the information -- or worse -- just give up.
The bottom line is that you need to be there for them when they need you.