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Virtual Information Center

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Innovation Summary

Implement the Virtual information Center (VIC). This department combines all services for customers utilizing the Library’s off-site resources into one customer service unit.

Innovation Leader: Paula Brehm-Heeger, Library Services Manager, Central Region, paula.brehm-heeger@cincinnatilibrary.org

Problem Statement

Demand for service by “remote users”-- those customers utilizing Library services and resources but not physically visiting a Library building--is growing, particularly among customers using eBooks and downloadable audio books. No additional resources or funding are available to meet this growing demand; meanwhile, front-line staff must continue to deliver excellent customer service to users visiting our brick and mortar libraries.

Innovation

The Virtual Information Center focuses on: providing assistance related to the Library’s eBooks and downloadable audio books; creating content for the Library’s website; answering all circulation-related and ready-reference questions received through the central telephone number; responding to customer questions submitted via email, text and the comment section on the webpage. Staffing resources in Main Library departments were assessed and reallocated to the new department based on projected efficiencies from the streamlined VIC model. No jobs were lost in the reorganization. A staff computer designed for and dedicated to working with customers’ downloadable questions is being developed and will include staff access to MP3 players and eReaders about which questions are frequently received. The VIC manager, in consultation with the Library’s computer services and telecommunications staff, developed tracking tools and holds staff accountable for meeting target response times on all questions.

Progress

The Virtual Information Center has demonstrably improved service to remote users. Answers to the increasing number of questions about downloadable materials have been fortified by a centralized VIC staff capable of leading customers through the process of downloading library material from start to finish. Staff members from the Virtual Information Center teamed up with the Library’s Human Resources Department to offer staff system-wide training to increase all staff members’ ability to answer customer questions related to downloading library material. VIC staff has also been utilized to increase the number of training sessions offered to the public on the Library’s downloadable collection, successfully anticipating an ever-growing demand for this service from customers. This expertise has aided in a major increase of the Library’s circulation of downloadable materials since the department opened in January 2011. In January 2011, the Library circulated 13,068 downloadable items, while during the same month in 2012, the number was 69,627, an increase of 432.8%. A comparison of February and March show similar increases. February’s totals jumped from 14,328 in 2011 to 68,642 in 2012, and March totals increased from 18,649 in 2011 to 48,266 in 2012, or 379.1% and 158.8%, respectively. The VIC handles more than 10,000 calls and 250 questions and comments received through email, textalibrarian, and the webpage per week. The number of customers abandoning calls before receiving assistance from a Library staff member has decreased substantially since the opening of the VIC. In the last three months before the opening of the VIC (October, November, and December 2010) the average abandonment rate for the period was 7.55% while for the same period in 2011, the rate was 5.05%. This drop in the abandonment rate was accomplished even while the number of calls handled increased by 11,493 during a single period in 2010 to the same period in 2011.