Electronic Resource Management: Handling users’ pain points

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I missed this year’s ER&L 2018 conference.  It has always been one of my favourite conferences and it never fails to amaze me with an interesting line-up of insightful presentations and workshops.  While checking out the tweets for this year’s conference, I came across this wonderful article by Claire O’Neill, Library Services, Wiley, on the top 10 trends@the conference.

Top 10 Trends at the 2018 Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) Conference | Wiley

I love the following points brought up by the author:

4.  Thinking outside of the box to identify student pain points

5.  Getting creative with outreach

6. Librarians work hard – and deserve acknowledgement

9.  Librarians share tips for improving user experience

10.  Information is power

Point 4 stood out for me.  Why?  Working in the electronic resources management field, I have always received a number of fan-mails from our users on electronic resources issues.  Their questions range from simple ones such as creating a personalized account in a particular electronic resources publisher website to more complex access issues such as accessing our subscribed e-resources off-campus.  As I received more and more of such questions, several thoughts flashed across my mind:

  • How can we alleviate the “sufferings” faced by our users proactively?
  • Can we better manage these issues by providing information up-front to them so that they are able to resolve these issues by themselves?
  • How can we heigthen the awareness of our users that such information are available?
  • How can we cull such questions and study the trends/patterns?
  • Are there any system that can manage these inquiries and provide meaningful data for us to analyze?
  • What can the library do to upkeep and update the staff knowledge on ERM matters?
  • … (the list goes on)

So many things, so little time on top of the limited resources. What are the ones that should take priority over others?  It reminded me of my first day in the office when I set out to become an E-Resources Librarian/Specialist (most of use are called Specialists over here).  It dawned upon me that among my main focus would be the troubleshooting of electronic resources and managing our users’ expectations.  Users always wanted information fast and within a few clicks.  They can get pretty irate and frustrated whenever their search hits a brick wall. (paywall seems much appropriate 🙂 )  How can our ERM team ensure that this does not happen? How can we manage our users’ expectations with regards to the workings of our subscribed electronic resources.

One of the earliest method used by our team was implementing an access monitoring system via Excel Spreadsheet (we’ve now moved on to a more sophisticated ERMS system).  Information regarding the access status were entered daily into this file.  I remembered highlighting those that have issues in RED color.  The other 2 colors were Green and Yellow.  I guess you probably would know what Green stands for.  (We had a file which uses the traffic lights color to alert us of any outstanding access issues).

Whevener a RED cell appears on the spreadsheet, the ERM team will alert our KAUST community as well as our internal library staff via email and other communication vehicle such as the library website.  At the same time, the ERM team will liaise with the publishers to investigate the root case and remedy the issue.  When the issue has been resolved, another alert will be sent to all stakeholders to inform them.

As much as possible the ERM team tried to be as proactive as possible.  However, due to the dynamics of electronic resources, things can change within a split second.  One moment things can be working, the next, it can go down.

The ERM team would conduct daily checks on all our electronic resources, manually.  The main access points to these electronic resources were also checked and verified such as:

  • Discovery layers
  • AZ portal
  • Online Guides
  • Google Scholar

In addition to that, we’ve placed online forms/email addresses on strategic access points for our users to report any e-resources issues.  This is an alternative form of obtaining feedback from our users.  Information entered via this online form/email is chanelled into our online Reference Inquiry Tracking system (Sprinshare’s LibAnswers).  These questions are then acted upon by the respective ERM staff.

It is also important to note the scheduled maintenance of the electronic resources.  Publishers would inform their customers on any impending scheduled maintenance.  In turn, we would publish this information on our library homepage as well as online guides.  (not to mention emailing as well).

Some other methods that we deployed to assist our library users was the creation of guides and FAQs that covered the electronic resources topic.  For example, I’ve created:

There are also other communication medium that can used to disemminate the information. These include the social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Looking back, I felt that despite all these tools, the human touch is always important. How we communicate with our users, how we manage their expectations can create a positive user experience.  How we handle and how  we listen to their rantings while at the same time, keeping our sanity intact 🙂 3 words that always resonate with me:

  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience

In the pipeline: Our team is working on building a knowledge base to store the main e-resources issues and how we can overcome them.  The target audience for this initiative is our internal library staff.  We believe that by sharing valuable knowledge with internal library staff, we can increase our productivity and effienciency towards better service excellence.