Running Telephone Reference Like a Branch

What has a physical location, professional and paraprofessional staff, a budget, a print collection including periodicals, dedicated computers, an e-mail account and a skyline view?

Telephone Information Service (aka TELIS or TEL) is a centralized service located at Central Library and staffed by Central staff.  Our 27 branches have unpublished numbers; the only way to actually TALK to anyone at the library is to go through TELIS.  There, staff provide library hours, renew books, update expired cards, reset PINs, place holds, provide instruction in the use of our web site, databases, and downloadable media, register people for programs and answer reference questions.  Thousands of transactions each month pass through the phone lines. Most callers are thrilled that their needs can be met in one call, right now, even if their branch happens to be closed.

I’m currently in charge of making sure the service runs efficiently, buying the materials it needs to answer questions, and training staff to answer the variety of questions that our callers ask.  This means that Circ staff needs to learn to answer simple reference questions (directory information) and Ref staff needs to learn to handle issues with patron accounts (claims returned, billing issues.)  It also means I need to turn in IT service requests, order supplies, and post publicity for system public programming.

In practice, TEL operates like a branch, but I don’t supervise any of the staff answering phones.  All the fun without many headaches!  My point in bringing this up is that we are shifting our service model one more time at the end of this month, and I’m re-thinking the mission of TELIS as it intersects with the library system’s model for service.   We have a number of newer staff who weren’t here during the indoctrination period 20 years ago, and have questioned the decisions behind some of our policies and procedures as expectations and abilities changed over time.  We may end up with a completely different idea of what good telephone service looks like!

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