Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: VoIP in Professional Communication, Collaboration, and Development

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: VoIP in Professional Communication, Collaboration, and Development

Article excerpt


This chapter examines the organizational uses of Web calling and conferencing for communication, collaboration, and learning.


Evaluating an emerging technology based solely on its hype-cycle potential can lead to one-size-fits-all implementations created in anticipation of imagined user needs. In the last two chapters I explored VoIP's technical background and major types; in the next two chapters I examine how these are applied in libraries and influenced by local context. On-the-ground uses of library web voice and video tend to fall into two categories: professional and public. This chapter examines organizational VoIP in communication, collaboration, and professional development, and chapter 4 explores VoIP-based reference, user services, and instruction.

Workplace Telephony

Most libraries are still firmly rooted in the fixed-location communication paradigm in their offices and public service points. Therefore, the most pervasive professional use of VoIP is the organizational transition to IP phones. Typically motivated by cost-cutting aims, libraries from across the spectrum have already or are planning to exchange older-generation lines for digital voice solutions managed by IT staff. This can be a complex undertaking for distributed systems that may have to coordinate incremental change and training across multiple facilities. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) began piloting IP phones in two of its branches in early 2008 as part of a fiber-optic upgrade to provide faster Internet access, and by August of the same year had transitioned to IP in all 24 branch libraries. According to communications manager Sarah Poole, VoIP is "more cost effective and ... offers additional benefits, such as system-wide paging, integrated voice mail and email, and individual voice mail accounts, which will enhance the efficiency of the library's internal communication and operation efforts." (1) Despite behind-the-scenes changes this might require, the IP calling experience is familiar enough that it is unlikely to present a disruption beyond orienting staff to a new voice mail system or handset. However, if VoIP adoption brings a change in established phone numbers, a significant public education and outreach initiative may be necessary.

Provided that they are allowed third-party software, many librarians are already using Skype in the workplace. While IP phones are viewed as easier to secure and manage at the organizational level, some institutions are also beginning to experiment with Skype for office communications. In 2009, massive budget cuts across the University of California system motivated the UC Berkeley Library Systems Office (LSO) to pilot a Skype program among its employees. Campus extensions are available at Cal for hefty fees, so as part of a radical cost reduction strategy, the LSO began giving library staff the option of either consolidating individual lines into shared extensions or using Skype as their desktop telephone client. Skype has thus far been adopted by roughly 30 employees, who received new SkypeIn numbers and SkypeOut with their choice of a headset, wireless phone, or "D-Link" adapter to convert their old handsets.

The cost benefits are striking: a SkypeIn number is $30 per year with a $3 monthly charge for unlimited calling and a one-time $30-$50 hardware purchase, compared to $45-$55 monthly for a campus line--a tenfold difference per user. By reducing subscriptions to campus phones through line consolidation and Skype adoption, the UCB Library was able to cut its voice costs by a third (roughly $120,000) in one year. Although quality issues (dropped calls, etc.) have resulted in significant troubleshooting and training for some and even a return to campus service for several initial adopters, Director for Library Technologies Bernie Hurley notes that the project has nonetheless been successful according to its aims. …

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