The benefits of using Microsoft Teams for research consultations and chat reference

Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted 8 scheduled research consultations and answered 2 chat questions via Microsoft Teams. This is approximately 30 percent of the 27 patron reference transactions that I have personally recorded since school resumed on March 23. While my overall numbers are down likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the interactions that I have had with students, faculty, and other patrons have been positive and fruitful.

After each Teams encounter I’ve tried to reflect on how the session went, what worked, and what did not. What follows are my general observations about the benefits of using Microsoft Teams for research consultations and general chat reference.

You know the names of everyone you meet with

Since Microsoft Teams requires everyone to have an account, and since accounts are tied to the university, that means I have seen the names of every student I’ve talked to. From a direct chat perspective, this means that I’m not talking to an anonymous person who is on my guide page using my chat widget. I feel like this makes the interaction seem more like a conversation between two actual people, rather than just between me and some random person on the Internet.

Names have also been useful in meetings. Many of my consultations have been with teams of 4-6 students. For in-person consultations, I typically only know the name of the person who reserved the appointment with me. Once the team shows up, I have no idea who is who, and no way of keeping track of all of the names. With Teams, since everyone in the Teams meeting has a name, I can actually use their names when responding to questions. For me, this made the consultations more personal, even if they are at a distance.

Teams gives you a virtual paper trail

During many of my consultations, I would share links I found on the web, quick screenshots, links to searches, files, or additional search terms in the chat. Because I did not record any of the consultations, whatever I put in the chat (which is perpetual) could be referenced later by the students.

Also, because the chat creates a perpetual connection between student and me, the student can immediately reach out with follow up questions. This has actually happened on two occasions so far. Because I can see the chat history, I can more easily recall what I discussed with the student the last time. With conventional chat programs, in person consultations, and even email, the student may vividly remember the last interaction they had with me, but it is very difficult for me to remember ever encounter (especially since many are so similar).

You can follow up very easily

As is the way with many encounters, I sometimes forget to tell a patron or group something during a consultation. Also in many cases, I get similar questions over a period of time, and during that time period I discover new ways or different sources to answer the similar questions. As a result, the students I talked to a few days ago may not get the same answer as someone I talked to this morning. Microsoft Teams enables me to follow up with them if I remember or learn something that can help them. With in-person consultations I don’t keep detailed notes, so follow up is difficult. With my experience with Teams thus far, I have been successful in sending links in the meeting chat later, and the students appreciated the follow up.

By the same token, Teams makes it easy for the student to follow up with questions later as well. I have had two students in the past week chat with me on a few different times after our initial consultation. Because I had a record of our previous conversations in the chat, I was more prepared to give them help to their specific projects.

You can let the patron drive

For most of my consultations I have been sharing my screen with the patrons. However recently I had a student share her screen with me and I was able to tell her where to go in the database. This worked well with this particular student as she was able to build a report and a map on her computer, rather me demonstrating and her trying to replicate the steps later.

I also found this exercise useful as I was able to view a shared screen from the user’s point of view. Watching this student share her screen has helped me slow down and be more intentional about describing what I am doing while sharing my screen with others.

You can record your steps

In one of my most recent consultations, I used the “Record Meeting” feature in Teams to record my screen. This automatically generates a Microsoft Stream video file that the student could then refer to later. I was demonstrating one of our more advanced databases, and I figured the student might appreciate referring back to the video if needed. I did tell the student that I was going to record the next part of our meeting together, which I think is a good practice.

What’s next

As we think about work and life post-pandemic, I have been thinking about how I will continue to incorporate Teams into my normal workflow (Will we return to normal? What will the new normal be?) Here’s some quick thoughts:

  • Continue offering Teams consultations. Most of the students that I typically help live either on campus or close to campus, so in-person consultations have been the norm. However, I have thought about making Teams meetings an option, or may consider offering evening consultation hours which I would staff from home via Teams.
  • Promote the Teams chat over my general Libchat. Since Libchat is web-based, I’m pretty guilty of failing to log in or out. I am in Teams all day every day. It’s just easier and the notifications are better than Libchat.
  • Hold drop-in online office hours via Teams. I can create a meeting in Teams and link to it from my guides. Students could come and go during the time slot to ask questions.
  • Record in-person sessions in Teams. This would enable the patron or student to refer back to what we discussed later. This could be especially useful for those consultations that require multiple advanced search techniques and sources.

What about you? Have you used Teams effectively? Please leave a comment and share your experiences with others.

How to add a Microsoft Teams chat link to your Libguides profile box

Last week I added my Microsoft Teams chat link to my Libguides profile box. Since this required some different code than just adding a Teams chat link to a general guide, I thought I would share it here. Maybe you’ll find it helpful.

The code

#teamschat {
  background: #FFFFFF;
  border: 1px solid #545AAA;
  border-radius: 4px;
  color: #333333;
  font-size: 18px;
  font-family: 'Barlow', 'Trebuchet MS', Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
  padding: 8px 20px;
  cursor: pointer;

<div id="teamschat"><a href=""><img alt="Click to Chat with Chad in Microsoft Teams" src="" style="border: 0px; vertical-align: middle; float: left;" /></a>

<a href="" target="_blank">Microsoft Teams Chat</a> 

<br />

How to customize

  1. Copy the code above.
  2. Navigate to your LibApps profile.
  3. Scroll down to the “Other Widget Code” box and paste in the code.
  4. Change to your Teams email account. You will need to change this in two places . As much as I love your students, faculty, and patrons, I am sure they would rather talk to you. 😉
  5. Change the “Chad” to your name. You’ll need to change this in two places (unless your name is “Chad”) . My other Teams post has more details about changing your introductory chat text.
  6. If you know a little CSS, you can modify anything within the <style> section at the top of the code to change font, size, etc.
Add Microsoft Teams chat to your Libguides Profile Bbox

Let me know if this was helpful and if it worked for you.

Good luck!

Research @ Home: Delivering asynchronous library instruction with web video during the Covid-19 pandemic

Chad Boeninger business research thumbnail

With the abrupt move to a blend of synchronous and asynchronous online learning for business students for the remainder of the semester, the faculty asked me to record a video for my research session. Here’s my writeup of how this worked out. Perhaps others will find this useful as they develop their own remote teaching plans.

Under normal circumstances, on Monday I should have delivered my business research instructions sessions from my office to over 400 students in the classroom, as I have done in the past with Microsoft Teams. However, with students not on campus and me working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, things are definitely not normal.

The Video(s)

Instead of one long, rambling video, I created six videos to divide the content into more manageable chunks. Creating six different videos also allows me to more easily recycle and embed the videos on different pages in my guides. Shorter videos means that students can watch a few videos at a time, and my YouTube analytics seem to confirm this behavior.

Usually I like to do a personal on-camera introduction with each of my videos where I introduce the content. This is important for me so that students recognized the face (and the expert) behind the voice on the screencast. Since these videos were all part of the same page, I decided to just record a general introduction to students for the first video, where I give them a little pep talk and discuss ways to connect for research help. The other four videos are demonstrations of how specific databases can be used for the personal fitness industry project. I posted all videos on a page for the specific guide I made for the semester project. The final 6th video was another pep talk vlog encouraging them to ask questions if they needed help.

I recorded and edited the videos with Screencast-o-matic using a Jabra Evolve 65 headset for audio. The audio is not as good as with the Blue Yeti mic, but it’s serviceable. You may notice a slight lip sync issue with the on-camera shots, but I believe I have that figured out for the next time. I created the custom images for the videos using YouTube templates in Canva ( the free version).

a screenshot of page with instructional videos
A screenshot of my page with the videos.

Finally, I created six simple quiz questions that faculty assigned in Blackboard. All told I have about four hours in the creation of the guide page, the videos, and the quiz questions.

Did they watch?

Well, right now, the jury is still out as my analytics are a bit confusing. According to Google Analytics, the guide page has 379 unique views since Monday. That seems to line up with the total number of 350 students, plus a few serendipitous hits from other people (perhaps faculty?). I’m basing my analytics on the past two days, as the quiz was due in Blackboard by midnight last night.

Here’s what YouTube Analytics says:

  • The top video was viewed 280 times.
  • The least viewed video was viewed 63 times, but it didn’t contain critical content. It was more of a “you got this” and “I’m here to help” vlog and was posted late in the day on Monday.
  • Average percentage viewed was 72.81. This is not bad considering that my channel lifetime average for view percentage is around 40 percent.
  • I’m a little disappointed that my “Analyze the Local Fitness Market” video (in purple below) did the poorest of the bunch. I think the resource that I demonstrate, SimplyAnalytics, is the most important tool for their project. This was my longest video at ten minutes in length, while the others were less than five.
a screenshot of YouTube Analytics, with data described in the bullets above


Unfortunately the data does not show that each student watched every video and that is a bit disappointing. However, it is helpful to consider that for each project, business cluster students work together in teams of four to six students. I have seen this play out in how they conduct research. For example, on my guide I might suggest four resources for understanding personal fitness consumers. Typically the team will divide up the resources so that only one student looks at a resource. They follow the same behavior when writing the final paper or creating the presentation; each student takes a section and does their part. Unfortunately this usually makes the paper or presentation look and read like it was literally pieced together, but faculty have been doing their best to discourage this practice. One theory in the video views is that the teams divided up the videos among the members in their typical divide-and-conquer strategy and completed the quiz through collaborative effort.

I will say that I am very pleased with the average percentage viewed for the videos. This tells me that those who did watch the videos watched most of the content. Even the lowest percentage watched video (at 53.6% of total viewed) is higher than the YouTube relative audience retention of similar length videos. So that’s not bad at all.

YouTube anlaytics showing the data mentioned in the paragraph above

My highest percentage viewed video outperformed the YouTube average for similar length videos. That’s pretty cool!

screenshot of YouTube analytics demonstrating that percentage viewed for the video was higher than YouTube averages

Ideas for next time

For next time, some ideas that I might consider:

  • Do the shorter videos work if we want all students to watch all of the content?
  • Would they watch a longer 20-30 minute video if they couldn’t easily divide the work among the team members? How would this affect the total percentage of the video watched?
  • Or in the case of my 10 minute video, should that have been separate videos no longer than 3 minutes each?
  • Did having 6 videos make it too easy for the teams to divide up the work?
  • Also of note is that I was crunched for time and my usual production value and edits suffered. I probably could have trimmed 30-60 seconds off of each video with additional edits or takes.
  • Were the quiz questions too easy? Should I have provided more quiz questions? Ideally they’d watch all of the videos just because their faculty told them too and that the content would help make their research easier.
  • Will the students come back to the videos throughout the remainder of the semester? Will they watch videos that they missed? Will they re-watch videos?

I also need a better understanding of YouTube and Google Analytics. Seeing as how I’ll be working from home for a bit, I’ll have plenty of opportunity for learning and improvement.

A Success?

All told, the viewership across the six videos for the past two days totals 58 hours of total watch time. That’s impressive and demonstrates something to build on for more remote/online learning projects.

If you’ve read this far, what are your thoughts? Have you done any similar analysis to your online guides, tutorials, or other learning objects? If so, leave a comment or reach out for further discussion.

How to add Microsoft Teams chat links to your Libguide and Libcal

Now that we’re working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty, staff, and [sometimes] students are encouraged to use Microsoft Teams for chats, calls, and meetings. To help faculty and students connect directly to their librarian, we have added individual Teams chat links to our subject librarian and archivists directory. I have also incorporated my Teams chat link on my Libguides contact pages , my Libguides Profile Box, as well as in my Libcal appointment confirmation and reminder emails. Here is how you can do it, too. You can also use the steps below to create links to embed in other websites or in your email signature. Professors and instructors can also use Teams links for students to directly chat or meet with them during their online office hours.

Create your link

Microsoft has some in=depth documentation in how to create “deep” links to Teams chats. However, it can be a bit overwhelming so I’ll try to keep it simple.

Let’s look at my link:

To make it work for your Teams account, just simply replace the user, (that’s me) with your own campus/corporate Teams account. You will also want to replace “Chad” with your name, unless your name is also “Chad.”

For my Libcal links I have a different message:

This will allow me to see if the person is coming via my general link, or if they here for an appointment. To add your own language and get the url, just delete everything after the “message=” and customize your message. For example: Chad this Teams Thing is really cool

Copy the url that you just made, and paste it back into your browser address bar in a new tab. This will add all the code for the spaces and punctuation, so it should now look like this:

Add the link to a Libguide

Adding the link to your Libguide should be just as simple as selecting the text or image in the Libguide editor, then adding the link you created above.

Add links via the Libguide Rich Text Editor

Add Link to Libcal confirmation and reminder emails

First, go to your personal appointments settings, as outlined in these directions from Springshare. You will want to modify both the confirmation and reminder emails.

For my confirmation emails, I have the following:

Hi {{NAME}},

This email confirms your appointment:

With: {{MY_NAME}} ({{MY_EMAIL}})
Where: Online Only. At the time of your appointment, <a href= ""> connect with me online via Microsoft Teams chat </a>.


To cancel this appointment visit: {{{CANCEL_URL}}}

For my reminder emails, I have the following:


This is a reminder about your appointment at {{START_TIME}}, {{DATE}} at {{DIRECTIONS}}.

Until further notice, my research consultations are limited to online meetings only. At the time of your appointment, <a href= ""> connect with me online via Microsoft Teams chat </a>.

To cancel this appointment, visit {{{CANCEL_URL}}}.

In theory, you should just be able to cut and paste the above, change your Teams link, and you’ll be good to go.

What the user sees

After the user clicks your chat link, they will have the option of either using the Teams Web App or opening the Teams Desktop App (if it is installed).

What the user sees in their web browser

Once the Teams app is open, the message that you added to your url will populate the chat box, so the patron can just start chatting by hitting enter. Since I can’t chat with myself, the image below shows what it looks like when starting a chat with a colleague.

Does it work?

We’re still on the extended spring break, but classes resume (online only) on Monday. I’ll post again with an update soon. In the meantime, if the directions here work for you, come back and leave a comment to share your story. Likewise, if you have questions, leave a comment. Good luck and stay healthy!

Teaching remotely with Microsoft Teams

This week I had the new experience of teaching with Microsoft Teams. While I have given webinars on many occasions to both student and librarian audiences, this was the first time I taught an instruction session to 120 students across three on-campus classrooms simultaneously from my office.


The Business Cluster is the core educational experience that all business students at Ohio University take during the sophomore year. Each semester there are at least 9 sections of 40 students, all taking their full load of management, marketing, information systems, and communication courses together with their section. In the past, I had met with the three morning sections, the early afternoon sections, and the later afternoon sections in a large ballroom type space that was specially reserved for the “project launch days.”

This semester the faculty decided to change the format of launch day (along with other flipped experimenting), and all students remained in their individual classrooms. Since each section is taught by a team of four faculty, this works fine for their part of the launch. But because I can’t be in three or more places at once, we decided to use Microsoft Teams for me to broadcast to all classrooms simultaneously.

a screenshot of Chad within the Microsoft Teams app
I give my first teaching with Teams session a thumbs up!


I set up meetings and invited all faculty to a morning, mid afternoon, and late afternoon meeting. This allowed the faculty to just click on the Teams link to launch into the correct Teams meeting for their class time.

I used a Logitech webcam for my video, and a Blue Yeti mic for my audio. Once the session began, I muted the three classrooms to avoid feedback and other sound distractions. The faculty had the option of using the text chat to ask questions if necessary during and at the end of the session, but no questions were asked.

a screenshot of a calendar invitation

Concerns & Challenges

I was a bit nervous Monday morning that the audio or video would not work right in each classroom. Faculty also voiced some concerns about the technology not working. I was tempted to go over to the classrooms Monday morning to run some tests, but figured that would be cheating. In a real distributed online meeting or teaching space, you cannot troubleshoot someone’s setup if they aren’t in the next building over, so I also opted to play by those rules. I figured it’s also important for students to see us succeed (or conquer struggles) with using technology. All of the sessions went off without a hitch.

The recording of the first session of the day can be found below. In theory, we could have just given the mid-afternoon and late-afternoon the recording, but we opted for me to deliver the session live, via Teams, for all three sessions throughout the day. This provided a more genuine experience for all students, as well as additional practice for me. I do believe I got a little bit better with my delivery throughout the day.

As is the case with any sort of web-based live teaching application, there were some challenges:

  • As you can tell from the video, it’s hard to look into the camera when it is mounted on top of your monitor while talking or sharing your screen. The camera looking down on you, or from the side, is much better, however, than the up-the-nose shot (ewwww).
  • I could not see the students in the classroom, so I could not see heads nod (whether due to understanding the content or falling asleep).
  • I felt like I went a lot faster than I would have if I had delivered the content in person.
  • Having taught in person in those classrooms, I know the projectors are not the best and I have no idea how my session displayed on the screen. I did enlarge screen text when I thought it was necessary. However, the recording is really good and posted on my guide for the project, so they can review if needed.

Observations & What’s Next

Faculty observed that overall the session worked great from my office, and thought that having students in their individual classrooms and teams was better than the big launch day sessions. While the faculty probably had a tighter connection with the students on the first, day, I felt a little bit distant from the launch day festivities, and was concerned that I would just be the guy on the screen at the end of class. However, I had a student flag me down in the library Tuesday with a question as I was on my way to a meeting, and another student asked me yesterday, “Are you the famous Chad? That video was great!” Evidently students can make the connection between virtual and in-person me. My guide hits are through the roof as well, as students have used the guide I created for their project almost 6,000 times over the past 5 days, while my other business guides have collected another 2200 hits.

During peak project and assignment weeks, there aren’t enough hours in my usual 8-5 workday to accommodate all of the research appointment requests. Given the success of this initial teaching experience, I am thinking about hosting research appointments via Teams on a few select evenings and weekends during the crunch time. This would allow me to set up a few available appointment blocks and meet virtually with those student groups, without having to commit to coming back to the office.

I am scheduled to meet with the same class sections via Teams in October. I have typically done an active learning exercise for their second project, which as resulted in significant demonstrations of learning. I’m racking my brain for ideas on how I might do an active learning exercise without physically being in the classroom. More on this later……

I am now a persona

Talk about a role reversal! Instead of thinking of our library users as personas, I have become a persona myself.

This semester my business students have been researching the outdoor recreation industry. For their third project of the semester, the ~400 students did a marketing consulting project for the Bailey’s Mountain Bike Trail System. Quite a few students used my likeness to build their mountain biker personas. Just call me Bradley from now on. Bonus points to the team who put me back in my thirties.

So long to the Business Blog

Sometime this summer I will be shuttering the Business Blog, my WordPress website that I’ve used to provide tips, tricks, and tools to business researchers across the planet since 2004. What follows is a lengthy discussion of highlights and challenges of using WordPress as a library research guide for 15 years.

A Screensot of the Business Blog

Why am I shuttering the Business Blog?

In Summer 2019, Ohio University Libraries will be moving our web content from our self-hosted WordPress CMS to the university’s officially supported Drupal content management system. We’ve decided that it is more efficient and strategic to focus on creating better web content and developing for unique collections, rather than using staff time to maintain servers and applications. While we may lose some flexibility, we are excited about sharing our web presence with the rest of the university and contributing to the university’s continued web improvement. Our library’s development priorities will be on showcasing collections, enhancing discovery, and improving the overall web experience, not on making sure the LAMP server is running.

Where is my Business Blog content going?

I’ve given considerable thought as to whether I could just host the Business Blog on my own server. This self-hosted blog that you’re currently reading runs on WordPress, and I have several years’ experience getting under the hood to tweak, customize and fix things. However, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to be my own server admin for such a critical service, and it wasn’t a good use of my time to do so. I’d rather focus on content, not keeping the site running.

As such, I have begun moving a lot of my more popular content to Libguides. I’ve used my years of Jetpack statistics as well as Google Analytics to better understand what content is being used consistently, and have prioritized migrating the most useful content. I’m not moving the entire site over, but just the most-used content. I have a backup of all content just in case I get requests for an old page, or if I need to re-purpose an old industry guide for a new class. It’s a fairly time-consuming process, but the move has enabled me to rethink how my content is organized and displayed.

I am learning a lot about how I can best leverage Libguides for my instructional and research content and I am having a lot of fun at the same time. My new site on Libguides is a work in progress. I’ll write more about the processes and decisions I’ve made in setting that up at at later time. In the meantime, I have a huge list of content to add and improvements to make. I’m also excited about using what I learn about Libguides to help my colleagues improve their content.

In addition to the more static guide pages, I’m also using the blog feature on one of my main guide.. This has proved valuable to point researchers to one-off tips that don’t necessarily merit creating a full page. Springshare’s blog format could use some improvements, but it at least works. Readers can follow the blog via email, or subscribe in their RSS reader such as Feedly.

What effect has the Business Blog had?

In Fall 2010, I closed the Biz Wiki, and started using the Business Blog exclusively for my business research content. Prior to 2010, WordPress was a better blogging tool than a content management system. From 2004 to 2010, I primarily used the Business Blog as an actual blog that pointed researchers to cools sites, or to content I created on the Biz Wiki. In 2010, after growing frustrated with the MediaWiki software that powered the Biz Wiki, and seeing the potential that WordPress now offered as a CMS, I moved all content and used WordPress to power all of my instructional and research content.

Since I started collecting statistics with Jetpack in 2008, the Business Blog has amassed more than 1.9 million hits. 2016 was my best year, with 281,525 views during the year.

annual total hits by year for the Business Blog

My best month was in January 2017 with over 41k views. The highest daily count was 5,965 views. From the chart below, you can see that the majority of the traffic is tied to the patterns of the academic calendar, with large increases in usage at the start of the semesters.

all time view statistics of the Business Blog

It also doesn’t hurt that my site has been a top hit in Google for “business blog” for several years, and search terms such as “industry financial ratios” drive thousands of researchers to my site each month. The site has had more than 50k views in 2019, despite the fact that it’s been dormant since January. I’ve stopped linking to the site and am pointing students to my Libguides content, yet people are still finding the site either from Google, from old links, or from prior association .

Seeing the site grow over the years has been a great experience. I was driven to create great content for my primary audience, and its’ been awesome to see how my content has helped researchers beyond Ohio University.

What’s been the coolest thing about using WordPress for my Business Blog?

I gave a presentation at the 2014 Computers in Libraries Conference on using WordPress as a research guide (PDF). Five years ago I talked about how flexible WordPress was and how good it was for me to use to showcase my instructional and research content. I still believe that to be true today.

One of the really cool features in WordPress is how you can use the category and tagging features to display related content. As an example, a page such as “Company Databases” can be dynamically populated with posts from a certain category. Using a custom template for the page, you can have the page, which actually has not content, display pages from a certain category. When you wish to add another post, or in this case a database, to the page, you just give the post the appropriate category.

a screenshot of company research databases page

Likewise, you can also use the category and a tag and use the URL to display content based on your site organization. This was especially useful with my video tutorials. Rather than did through my site to manually link them on one page, all I had to do was to link to the url, such as businessblog/category/videos/?tag=simmons-oneview. In this example, it fetches all posts that are in the video category and tagged as “simmons” as shown below.

an example of using categories and tags to display custom pages in WordPress

Finally, I think the ability to display related posts, using one of the huge variety of plugins, provides a great opportunity to drive your site users to other content. As shown in the Simmons Oneview image below, because the database post and the related posts were all tagged and titled similarly, the very relevant content was displayed below the research database description. This meant that users could find relevant instructional videos or other related content to help them with their research. While the potential is there, I don’t have good documented evidence that my primary users, undergraduate and graduate business researchers, have used the related posts as I had intended.

a screenshot of  a business blog posts showing related posts

What’s been challenging about using WordPress as a research guide?

Probably the biggest challenge I’ve had with the Business Blog is the length of pages and posts that I inevitably create. The challenge with business research is that there isn’t just one place to find the answer; researchers often have to consult multiple resources for the many facets of business research. I suppose I could have divided the content up across multiple pages, but then that assumes I would be able to successfully direct all users to the multiple parts of a research or industry guide.

Late in the Business Blog’s life cycle I started using anchor links to drive users further down the page. I had found that when meeting with students, they were frequently asking me questions that I had answered two-thirds of the way down an industry guide page, or they just weren’t using resources that I said were “essential” because they were below the fold. An example of these anchor links is in the image below, and I think the anchors had mixed results.

a screenshot of a business blog post showing anchor links

Another frustration that developed over time was the difficulty in changing the sidebar content. In WordPress the sidebar is associated with the page template. Without the use of plugins or a custom page/post template, it is difficult to change what is displayed on the side of the page on the fly. This meant that since I only had a few different page templates, most of the pages and posts looked the same.

What’s my best memory of the Business Blog?

Because the Business Blog content was so easily found in Google, I’ve been fortunate to talk to countless librarians who contacted me with questions. I’ve had veteran librarians who had just taken over business duties ask for advice about building collections and selecting databases. I’ve met numerous people at conferences tell me how much they appreciated my blog and my videos. On more that one occasion, new business librarians have told me that my content helped get them their first jobs. It’s those connections I’ve made through my Business Blog and my videos that I’ve appreciated the most.

What have I learned from 15 years with the Business Blog?

The blog format for my content has allowed me to be a bit more “loose” with my content. I suppose that since blog posts are created when a need is identified (i.e., I am getting a lot of the same questions or I have 400 students working on the same project) , and since my blog posts are targeted to specific questions, I’ve been less formal in my writing. I was writing in the first person long before I read books about writing for the web.

I’ve also tried to use my own pictures whenever possible to give students a glimpse into who I am as a person. Using my own images has kept the site and content fun for me, and hopefully helps the users see a less serious side of their librarian. These pictures would typically be used as featured images for the blog posts. A selection of pictures, with my cheesy captions to keep things light, is in the gallery below.

What’s next?

I’m really going to miss having a website that is unlike any other business librarian’s guide. I have a bit of a non-conformist streak at times, especially when it comes to adopting what everyone else has as the only option. The Business Blog was successful and was working for me long before Libguides came along. There’s a lot of history there and I’ve put a lot of sweat equity into that site over the years.

As I migrate content to Libguides, I’ll use the things I’ve learned from 15 years of trial and error with the Business Blog to help shape how I organize and present the content to my students, faculty, other librarians, and other random researchers from the Internet. I had initially thought I would hate moving to Libguides, but I’m finding that the platform now has features that surpass the capabilities of my WordPress site. I’m giving up some flexibility (and obviously losing my Google Page rankings), but I’ve come to terms with that. I’m looking forward to creating even better content in the months and years to come and spending less time worrying about theme and plugin incompatibilities. I’ll follow up soon with a progress report.

Library Service Desks and User Experience

A picture of a notepad with writing of "user experience desk"

Many libraries these days either have or will have “wrestled” with the idea of what to do about “reference” or the reference desk. Iris at Pegasus Librarian has written some thoughts about the topic. Thanks to Stephen Francouer for the twitter tip.

In her post, she discusses that reference desks provide patrons with visible help and offer low barriers to use. She writes that these are values that users will have, and whether we have a reference desk or not, our users appreciate and find comfort in seeing friendly, knowledgeable people helping others at an easy to find service point. Iris writes:

Even if patrons aren’t actively seeking out the service or actively learning about support options, they should be able to see you being kind and welcoming and helpful and engaged and excited about other patrons’ information needs. Maybe your patrons will walk past you a million times on the way to and from the printers, or the bathrooms, or whatever, but they become passively aware of the service and its function. And they become passively aware that librarians love the act of information seeking, love the hunt, love the puzzle, and love more than anything else the opportunity to engage with people who are curious or confused and who will have their lives made easier by access to some information or a more nuanced ability to evaluate and use what they have found.

Three years ago our library consolidated service desks and functions and changed the staffing model. During the first six months, we continued to have librarians staff the primary service desk during peak daytime hours, then moved them to another satellited desk near the Writing Center (a big failure), and finally changed to our current on-call model. We now have two service desks on separate floors, and both are now just dubbed “service desk.” A desk that “owns” reference is no more, as both desks now answer and refer questions of all types.

While this move has allowed our subject librarians to focus more on work within their subject disciplines, it’s also meant that they don’t answer as many general questions anymore. We’re now at risk of losing touch with the “general” library user, who I’d loosely define as the users who use our physical and virtual services who may never know their subject librarian or visit their Libguides. I’d also define a general user as anyone who is using non-subject-specific service and tools, such as printing, the library website, the catalog, the discovery layer, or study rooms at that moment. In other words, even if they have a phD, if they aren’t using a specialized resource within their discipline, they’re a general user in the moment.

Iris writes that it is very important for librarians to be able to have “access to a broad cross-section of questions.” As an example, if I only wore my business librarian hat while working on our library website migration, then I would not be keeping the interests of the rest of our users in mind. I have to remember to don my User Services cap. But given that I don’t work the desk as much anymore, and our librarians don’t work the desk at all, we’re at risk of associating all users as the same, or forgetting about the general user entirely. Our subject librarians no longer work the desk in part because the questions no longer required their subject-level expertise. The easy questions get asked at the desk, and the more difficult one get referred to the on-call librarian or a subject librarian. But Iris writes:

In a lot of ways, the “easy” questions are more telling than the complex ones if your goal is to keep tabs on what your population finds easy or hard. These “basic” questions may be accommodated by a variety of service models, but they are decidedly not unimportant questions. If anything, they may be the most important questions — the questions that tell us valuable things about tools or services that we haven’t set up right. It’s not the patron’s fault for asking the “wrong” questions — The User Is Not Broken. It’s on us to make it so that, wherever possible, “easy” things are easy for our users, too. 

It’s these easy, frequent questions that our user services work should focus on first. I’m excited that we are about to start on some experiments in reorganizing some of our work among subject librarians and user services staff. My department will now be able to more strategically (and hopefully efficiently) address user services challenges for all patrons. Some ideas for things we can work on include:

  • Track common questions on chat and at the service desk. Identify trends and investigate how to make those questions even easier for users to find answers
  • Collect feedback from users at all points about the new website, and follow up if necessary
  • Identify barriers to subject librarians’ Libguide usage. For example, are patrons searching for topics where a guide might be useful?
  • See themselves as the conduit between general library users and subject librarian
  • Observe common traffic patterns and study spaces
  • Identify how furniture is being moved and used
  • Study how our desktop computing is being use, or in many cases, moved out of the way
  • Find pain points for our patrons
  • Organize all of this information in a way that is easy to collect, use, understand and communicate

Our department will meet soon as a group to start working on our new goals and roles within the library. My overall goal is that each user services staff member can see themselves as a user experience advocate for all library users and feel empowered to communicate patron needs at all levels.

Cheers to my ALA friends

A hand holding a coffee mug
ALA annual is just not my cup of tea — this year

This weekend, thousands of librarians will descend upon the city of New Orleans for the American Library Association annual conference. It’s a big deal in our profession, and for the first time in ages, I’m not there.    There’s a number of reasons I decided not to go, but they all boil down to just needing a break from the mega conference scene.   As a budding guitar player I’ll miss the music scene of New Orleans, but I won’t miss the late-June humidity and heat.  I’ll miss my business librarian buddies and the various BRASS functions, but I won’t miss the feeling of going on a camping trip (and I actually like camping)  every time I  leave my hotel for the conference center.   I’ll miss seeing some of my favorite vendors and giving them an earful of how to improve their products.  This year I’m spending my time and travel dollars at smaller conference venues, and I’m enjoying the change of pace.  For those going, I wish you a great conference.  I look forward to following your experiences via your tweets, blog posts, and pictures.

P.S.  If BRASS gives out coffee mugs for the 30-year anniversary this year, can someone snag me one?  The 2013 cup is my wife’s favorite!   😉

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