Monday, August 31, 2009

Some email ideas for library use - LibX and Xobni

Haven't had much time to blog this weekend, as I was busy running a pilot survey for my Phd (more about that in the future), but I will just share 2 wild/random ideas I have about email.

Gmail and LibX

In my last post, I talked about how LibX is very useful, for acquisitions work, in particular how it can do autolinking of isbns.

"Any page with an isbn is recognized and converted into a clickable link. Clicking on it will do a search of your library catalogue. It even searches related isbns (different publishers, different editions) if your opac supports that or lists related isbns in a sidebar that you can search with another click if your opac doesn't."

Say you subscribe to various book alerts like Blackwell collection manager's enotes, and they send you attachments (rtf, doc) in email. On receiving them, you would like to click on the ibsns given in those attachments to do a direct ISBN search of your catalogue, but unfortunately the Libx autolinking of isbns works only with actual webpages, so getting them in rtf, doc format doesn't help.

What's the solution? What you can do is to subscribe to those mails in your gmail account, then when the mail arrives click on "view as html", which will open the document as a html page.

Why do so? Simple, so LibX can work its magic.

Now just click on the isbn and you can do a isbn check of your OPAC!

Want to buy the item? Just copy and paste to your email (rtf or html format) and send it to the acquisitions department, and the acquisitions department staff can verify again by clicking on the link (Why do they need to double check if you checked it already? One reason is that between the time you checked the catalogue and sent the email and the time they received and processed it, they might have ordered it for someone else already)

Google's "view in html" works for not just Word documents but also excel, pdf, ppt etc. A common thing often done is to search for a bunch of items from your integrated library system (ILS) using a certain search criteria (say all items catalogued last year and circulated at least 5 times), then export the results (which will almost always include isbn or Marc field 020) into excel. But if you want to look at those items you would have to manually cut and paste the isbn etc into your opac to search.

Instead, email it to gmail, then use the same trick above, and you will see all the isbns are links already!

Another interesting option would be to view/convert such documents in Google docs or one of their competitors (Zoho, Buzzword, etc), since they are web-based with the corresponding benefits.

In fact, besides the LibX functions there are several functions that are accessible only when viewed in html, these include IE 8's web accelerators, various Firefox addons that add searches to the context menu etc, so viewing a document in html can actually be quite useful.

Use Xobni for tracking email

Many libraries use a Outlook account to handle user queries. By using Xobni (Inbox spelled backwards) a free plugin, one can access Xobni analytics, which helps to quickly answer the following questions.

In terms of mail volume, when are your users emailing you. How many percent of them email you during the weekend? How many percent do it after office hours? Does mail volume vary across the year?

In terms of response speed, what is your libraries' median response time to a mail? Does this vary much by hours? (Typically it does, mail received before office hours say 7 am obviously have a slower response time). Does this vary by day of week or across the year? (Again it is obvious response time is typically slower during week-ends if the account isn't manned those times). Are you meeting your service level targets?

You can filter results by person, subject, domain, folder, context and more

All this is very helpful to decision making, for example if you find a spike in emails received after midnight say during April (just before assignments are due?), you might consider setting up a night shift to answer emails during this period?

Is your response time noticeably slower for certain questions? Particularly, you might find a class of questions that are commonly received say after office hours or on friday nights and which require answers that cannot wait until office hour begins... Which could be a source of dissatisfaction.

Xobni also has Facebook, Linkedin and Skype integration. With many libraries establishing a presence in Facebook, (even Library of Congress has one!) due to the rapid rise in popularity of Facebook and a smaller number providing support via Skype, Xobni is the ideal tool. For instance, a user emails you to ask a question, use Xobni to instantly offer to "Friend" him with your Library's Facebook account.

Or instantly find his skype account and communicate with him via Skype.

Note : There might be privacy concerns if you use Linkedin, Facebook related features.


That's all for this week. I hope you found some of the tips here useful. BTW, my blog is now 6 months ago (it's genesis dates back to 24 Feb 2009) , would like to thank readers for their comments and interest.
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