Providing Remote Services

Hello all! For those of us that are able to work from home, we’ve mentioned some remote services that we are providing to patrons during discussions and lectures. I’d love to create a space where we can put out ideas about reference services specifically, but of course we can also discuss programming and what tools you are using to provide these library services to your patrons.

I’m trying to consolidate this because my manager asked us specifically what types of tools we might want to implement, and apparently our library director is excited about offering Zoom calls for reference interviews. The reference staff, myself included, doesn’t necessarily think that this is the answer (both for tech and personal safety reasons, as we are in our own homes using our own personal computers), and that we should implement a chat feature way before we open up to video conferencing. However, Zoom could be helpful if we put our author talk events online. We’ve obviously discussed multiple times and in great detail the privacy and surveillance downfalls of Zoom and related software, so no need to go into that necessarily. However, I would love to hear about what you are using, if it is successful or not, and whether your patrons are utilizing these new virtual features or not. Did you create policies for video conferencing software or any other safeguards before you began to use it? Further, have you or your patrons expressed concern about privacy, computer literacy, or wifi access that could be impacting the use and effectiveness of these new tools? We have a ton of older patrons and I’m not foreseeing them hopping easily onto a Zoom author talk event without assistance.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this!

My public library system lives entirely in the Google Apps environment, so we are using Hangouts/Meet for everything. It’s handy that it keeps everything in one spot, and you have to allow anyone to join who isn’t part of the institution. It’s doesn’t have the most features, though, and it does place you firmly within Google’s architecture. We are resisting multiple platforms due to the need to train staff and public on multiple things that may be of only limited usefulness.

For things that you want people to be able to click and join, ease of use is going to be YouTube streaming or Facebook live.

At my community college library we have used for our chat widget for a long time, and it seems to work well. Our students were already familiar with it, which was helpful. I’m not sure if this is the default configuration, but students don’t have to provide their name or any info to use it, although if they do provide an email address in the context of the chat, we have the option to email them a transcript. It allows for screensharing (which, tbh, I’ve never done with it). I often send screenshots through it though. Patrons can also text questions to it and from the librarian side the questions look the same. Here’s what it looks like on our website: chatwidget

We also have it embedded in our LMS, Moodle.

I’ve used Zoom for teaching but not for reference yet. The week before we went into lockdown, the college switched over to a new phone system, Avaya. We can check library voicemail remotely and then using the Avaya app, which they had us install on our phones, we can call patrons back from home and it shows our campus phone numbers rather than our personal numbers. I’ve only used that once or twice and am a little concerned about some of the permissions the Avaya app wanted, so I’m planning to delete it once we’re in person again.

We use LibraryH3lp too! We just started using it when we went to all online classes in March. I believe we are using the free trial version which last 90 days. The librarians from all of our campuses work the chat in shifts. You can share your screen with students to help navigate the research databases, but usually students just need the passwords to databases and I can send that file to them through the chat. We also have a 24/7 reference chat that came with an EBSCO database and it is worked by librarians who aren’t at our campuses.

I also made some video tutorials using Camtasia on how to use our search feature online, and a short video showing how to connect with the chat feature and on Canvas. We just created a Canvas course for our Learning Resources Center that students can self-enroll in to access information and ask questions.

Typically, our (library) PR and (city) IT dept have things on lockdown but the pandemic caused a lot of staff to go rogue much to my amusement.


  • Facebook Live – organically children’s staff started doing story times on Facebook Live, and for the time being this is platform we are using for that.


  • WebEx – the city is Cisco client so official “on record” meetings are happening via WebEx
  • Zoom – Most the teams have are having their regular meetings via Zoom
  • Jitsi – I’ve pushing for Jitsi use when/where I can

Reader’s Advisory / Reference

  • LibAnswers – this what we using for ‘reference’ aka account help before the pandemic so that is still going strong.
  • Google Forms – staff created a RA specific form on Google Forms. There are efforts to formalize this into a LibAnswers landing/page form

Book clubs

  • Google Hangouts – again rogue staff (at least once)
  • WebEx – probably coordinated via city IT (at least once)

For Google Apps, are you using personal gmail accounts or did you create/already have institutional gmail accounts?

Thanks! My manager is definitely interested in adding a chat function so I’ll let her know that libraryh3lp works well for you and your library!

Vote 2 for LibraryH3lp!

We are relying heavily on Zoom to provide virtual library programs. We’re making old fashioned phone calls to provide tech help virtually, with the option to set up a videoconference for screen sharing if the patron is savvy enough to do it that way. We’re also pushing to create all kinds of YouTube content–storytimes, cooking videos, crafting videos, tech tutorials, etc. Our workaround for the Zoom security issues is that patrons must email the library with the name of the program in the subject line to get the link to participate. I think this dents our attendance in a major way, but I wouldn’t just make the link public or share it in one of our e-blasts… too risky.

As for internal communications, we are relying on a dinosaur of an email server provided by the state that is truly the worst. I’m looking into a migration to Google (I know, I know), or trying out Slack.

It’s an institutional Google for Education platformed with assigned and centrally managed accounts.

Previously we used LibraryH3lp for our chat service and I would also recommend it. Now we are using LibAnswers from Springshare, which is also user friendly and allows us to have a robust chat service. There have been discussions around a virtual reference desk- one location has started it using Zoom (and somehow linked in with the LibAnswers chat, not sure of the details) and provides a one on one reference session. The university however does not recommend Zoom and WebEx is our official videoconferencing app. We will be offering open reference hours via WebEx in partnership with another department this week- students are being provided a WebEx link which will connect them to a librarian- but the intent of this is more of open office hours with multiple students able to connect rahter than a one-on-one model. I have asked many questions about the privacy of the one-on-one model - for both students and librarians and those questions have not been met with enthusiasm as they are seen as just trying to get out of doing the service, when in fact my concern is that we are rushing to provide these services without thinking careful and setting guidelines/best practices etc… (So thankful to all of these discussions helping me with my talking points!)