Library’s customer service in the time of the pandemic
Narrow musings from the library's customer service, where the unusual circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic flexed the workflows and ways of getting work done. And, only future will tell, if it also perhaps diversified them even further.
The pandemic tango
The past 18 months at the library have had many twists and turns that have caused extraordinary restrictions in the day-to-day customer service for patrons and staff alike. New, invented almost on-the-fly, but most effective changes in practices for accessing and lending resources have become familiar to everyone. That is, the practices we have been able to implement, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, parts of the library's assortment of services have been on a hiatus during lockdown. However, people’s thirst for knowledge has not been quenched, even if some patrons have graduated in the meantime. New students have already entered the university to fine-tune their own expertise.
Next, I will go through the joys and griefs of the hybrid work model in terms of customer service work, as it has become the most familiar task to me during the pandemic. My aim is not to break down all events into their minute details, as they will surely be compiled later into their own book series. There is definitely a lot of material available, and a very well running plot!
Remote work – it’s more than just waiting for the coffee to percolate
For the first days of remote work in late March 2020, I spent working at a service with a monster of a name, "remote interlibrary loan services". Also, importing the university’s research outputs into the research information system, editing, and validating them were part of the basic routine of my remote work days from the very beginning. These tasks can be done remotely at home, same as at the desk at work. Though of course, with the exception that delivering interlibrary loans to our library and elsewhere cannot be done remotely. Patrons, however, understood the situation and were very patient with us. Luckily, the situation did not last forever. At the moment, interlibrary loan services has almost gone back to normal, because when working on-site at the library we can send the interlibrary loans onwards. In Turku, at the university library, interlibrary loan services is handled by two people in half-day shifts. Whether we are working at the library or a little further away at the home office, we are always connected online.
I have worked on-site at the library, either at Feeniks, Quantum, or Teutori, and during those days I have managed to send those previously mentioned interlibrary loans onwards to waiting patrons. Neither should we forget the Newspaper and Ephemera Services in Raisio, where I had shifts a couple of days a month for almost the entire COVID-19 epidemic.
Adapting to an unfamiliar situation often takes time, and the first few days of remote work at the beginning of the pandemic were especially murky, with the added bonus of some refreshing technical problems. After the library had to close its doors to everyone, the next few times working at the library felt a little strange, too. Fortunately, we have help channels available for when problems arise. And eventually things tend to work out, one way or another. Right now it feels like the hybrid work model could be continued in the future too, since it is possible to organise at least parts of our work to suit the model. But I would not want to become a completely remote worker.
Hindsight is always 20/20
At the end of the day, it has to be said that the weekly reply-shifts at our customer service email to contact patrons have kept my mind as sharp as a tack. Luckily, no one has yet to ask about that plug at the bottom of the sea...
Since we are living in a time of restrictions, this text was also restricted to one point of view. I am positive there are dozens of different stories and viewpoints about working in the library during this unusual time. People's job descriptions and personal experiences rarely fit into the same mould.
At the time of writing this we are heading towards better times, so here’s hoping that no bigger storms are brewing on the horizon. And now it is time for me to move on to something completely different!
Hoping for as good a cooperation as ever in the future,
Kristian Peippo (nom de plume)