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Reconfiguring a Library Service Model to Reduce Exposure

—By Clare McKenzie, Associate Director Learning & Engagement, and Georgina Konstanta, Acting Manager Client Experience, University of Wollongong Library

This is the second of two pieces from staff at the University of Wollongong Library in New South Wales, Australia. Read the first piece


In response to COVID-19 in Australia, The University of Wollongong decided that students would now learn off-site, but at the time of writing, our domestic campus locations would remain open, including the University Library on the Wollongong campus site, albeit with significant restrictions to face-to-face services. 

At the library, we are committed to reducing the exposure of our frontline staff and avoiding unnecessary contact with others. Transitioning 90% of our staff to working remotely required a rethink of our critical client-facing services. Direct, face-to-face enquiries within the library building had to be addressed, and while we were already operating a proactive chat service through the Springshare client, there was a need to support the expected increase in live chat interactions, with the added complexity of most of those staff delivering the service working from home most of the time. Our client-facing services are triaged and categorised into tiers as broadly described in the image below. Generally speaking, students fall into Tiers 0–1 and academic staff into Tier 2. 


When the building is open as normal, our Tier 1 service team act as concierge, first-level problem solving or pathways to information (Tier 0) or they can request a librarian to provide more specialised assistance (Tier 2). Tier 1 services are also provided year-round via our live chat service and utilised the same “drop in” referrals to Tier 2, although that service was provided outside the live chat system. 

The COVID-19 changes required us to look at this on two fronts. There was the issue of enabling continued Tier 1 services within the building, albeit to a greatly reduced number of visitors and the workflow issues around referring queries to Tier 2 when neither the client nor staff member is in the building. 

Virtual Service Point

To enable continued services within the building while maintaining physical distance, we developed a Virtual Service Point (VSP) using our knowledge of the Microsoft Teams platform and with some trial and error the prototype was launched within three days of the inception of the idea. The VSP enables a real-time personalised response to queries within the building while providing our front-line staff with the ability to offer this service from a remote location (in this case, the staff workroom in the same building).

Tier 2 Chat

The other initiative we launched was providing training to our Tier 2 librarians in the Springshare live chat system so that they could be part of the service while working remotely—to replace the “drop in” ability we had previously had in responding to Tier 1 referrals. The live chat training was provided in a hybrid mode, as some staff had already begun to work from home and others were testing and trialling the equipment and connections required. 

Looking ahead

The COVID-19 crisis has hit different global regions with varying degrees of intensity, and there are contexts where it is not safe for physical library buildings to remain open, even when limitations are placed on face-to-face interactions. In Australia currently, we are lucky to not be amongst the hardest hit nations. At The University of Wollongong, the ability to rapidly and responsively reimagine our service model, upskill our staff,  and implement technological solutions has enabled us to stay open and operational whilst minimizing risk and deliver expert library services to our clients, at a time where support and connection are in highest demand.


Editor’s note: This is the seventh piece in COVID (Re)Collections, a series exploring responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by library, cultural heritage, and information professionals. Stories are proposed by the authors/contributors and reflect their personal experiences and perspectives at the time of submission. Learn more about the series and share your own story here.

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