Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Voice Mail: Enhancing Communications

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Voice Mail: Enhancing Communications

Article excerpt

When it's done right, voice mail can improve communication with your patrons.

Picture, if you will, a small public lilibrary in a town of twenty-five thousand. If you had just become the director, and you were assessing its basic office and automation capabilities, what elements would you review?

Number one, obviously, would be a telephone, and then a fax machine. Then you would consider a microcomputer, an option that would open up an array of possibilities including online database searching, word processing and budgeting, and access to electronic mail and bulletin board services. A CD-ROM drive attached to that PC would permit access to many reference databases and indexes. Eventually you might want to automate your catalog and circulation.

What's missing is voice mail, a not-so-obvious tool, one that many libraries could employ to great benefit. You also may have heard it referred to as automated answering or voice-messaging.

Everyone has been on the client end of voice mail at one time or another. You knOw the familiar pattern: a computer-generated voice asking if you have a touchtone Phone, then instructing you to "Press 1 for the order desk or 2 for technical support." port." few libraries have implemented voice-messaging systems, voice mail can be as basic to library service as a microcomputer and a fax machine.

A Basic Tool

The contention that voice mail is a primary library automation tool wouldn't hold much water if you had to be an American Express, Citicorp, or Westinghouse to afford iL What may be surprising is that lowcost, microcomputer-based voice messaging systems provide 90 percent of the functionality of larger, much more costly voice-messaging systems.

Further, they can be installed and configured by the buget; the services of a microcomputer/telecommunications guru are not required. They are designed to operate on a single telephone line and allow the librarian to generate different messages, provide mailboxes for callers, and even function as a replacement for a receptionist, if so desired. With voice mail you can get instant access to people and information and improve your library's productivity.

Thanks, but No Thanks

There is a certain segment of the population that loathes voice mail, and we should address their top concern before going any further. By all reports, the number one concern is that voice mail can distance a client from the library that set it up. "I want to speak to a human! I call and call, and that blasted computer records messages that are sent into an automated black hole."

The answer to this concern, quite simply, is that with the implementation of voice mail should come a commitment to frequently check the incoming message file, and to conscientiously return messages. There is nothing inherently faulty with the technology, just its application.

Voice Mail System Overview

Simple micro-based voice mail systems work on a single-line telephone and consist of a printed circuit board that plugs into a microcomputer and accompanying software. Messages are recorded by compressing and storing speech on the computer's hard disk. This compression is made possible through a technique called adaptive differential pulse code modulation.

Most voice mail systems permit you to play messages back in any order and allow you to decide interactively whether to keep or delete them. A time sharing function allows some voice mail systems to run in the background while users are working with other programs.

Voice-messaging systems go wen beyond simple tape recorder-based telephone answering machines by being able to route calls, branch inquiries, and dispense specialized information. Voice mail eliminates lost opportunities and wasted time by providing telephone management, message recording, and improved data communications. The result is a cost effective, easy-to-use method of gathering, managing, and distributing information. …

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