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.

Improving my WFH video tutorial setup for better audio and video quality

My first videos in my new work-from-home basement office were a bit rushed, so I didn’t have much time to work out all of the details before recording the research sessions for my students. While the content was okay, I wasn’t happy with the quality of the audio and video. I watched a few YouTube videos and some Lynda training, and have adapted some ideas to improve my video tutorial setup.

Chad is talking on camera to his webcam while shooting a video

The picture above shows my latest setup when making videos at home.

Before making the changes

Here’s what the video looked like before I made the changes outlined above.

  • Webcam sitting on top of monitor, making adjustments of the camera angle a little limiting
  • Background is a mess, though reflects reality of my life at that moment. (I have to day the guitars on the wall do make me look cooler, I think?)
  • Blinds are open and overhead lights are on, but the webcam was on “Full Auto”. As a result, I am a bit blue in the video
  • Audio recorded with a headset — not necessarily bad, especially if you’re going for the “air traffic controller” look. However, the audio was “tinny” sounding
  • Nice flannel shirt


  • Webcam at eye level and a bit closer to the subject. (supposedly this creates more trust with the audience)
  • Less cluttered background — No Legos on the floor, open bathroom doors, or sons playing Xbox photobombing me
  • Background picture, lamp and plant are not distracting, but still provide something to provide some depth to the video image
  • Blinds open to the left, overhead light on, two lamps behind me. This makes the video less pixelated.
  • Webcam settings (exposure, white balance, saturation, etc.) were tweaked manually (more on this in another post)
  • I still need to work on the white balance. While I’m not as blue as the “Before” shot, I am a bit too warm in this shot.
  • I’m not doing any color correction (yet) as I just edit in Screencast-o-matic, so I need to get the white balance as close as possible when I record
  • I also feel like I need a key light for off to the right and behind the camera to help balance the light from the window
  • Different day, same flannel shirt
  • Same shiny head, too

Video resources that helped

Here’s a selection of the videos that gave me ideas for improvements. Training


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.

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