Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Implementing an Intranet-Based Library Help System

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Implementing an Intranet-Based Library Help System

Article excerpt

The Helpdesk site allows library staff members to log their own incident reports and work requests, track existing problems, search a knowledge base for answers, and more.

Macintoshes, PCs, dumb terminals, 56 networked CD-ROM drives, four servers, Web services, a new Web-based online public access catalog, buggy groupware, LCD projectors, routers, hubs, wiring closets, office suites, networked lasers, desktop security, virus protection, Web browsers, software metering, menuing systems, staff and patron training, thousands of potential users, and a networked debit card system about to come online! This is the working environment in which the systems department at the Ann Arbor District Library found itself at the beginning of 1997, as the library prepared a major technology push in the 3 months preceding National Library Week.

With four locations and nearly 300 networked PCs and terminals to support, we were having trouble keeping track of problems and distributing information to 170 staff members. Memos documenting updates and changes were not reaching all of our users, and paper incident report forms were not reaching us in a timely manner. Emergency phone pages to the department were being received, but, without documentation, problems were occasionally getting "forgotten." We had to make some changes to improve communications and streamline technical support within the library. The alternative was to lose our minds as well as the confidence of the library staff.

The primary change we made was to develop a Helpdesk Web site and an intranet server to run it. This Web site allows library staff to log their own incident reports and work requests, track existing problems, search the staff directory, and search a highly specific knowledge base for answers to their problems and information needs. Staff response has been positive, and the department's workflow has become organized and efficient. Problems are being solved in a timely manner, and the library staff's ability to manage change has improved significantly. Much of the fear that they will not be able to receive help when they need it has gone away.

Who's Who in the Access and Systems Department

There are currently six staff members in the information access and systems department at the Ann Arbor District Library. The associate director is in charge of overseeing the department, budget management, and strategic planning. The computer systems administrator is in charge of network management and implementing new technology initiatives. The desktop engineer is in charge of desktop setup, maintaining the CD-ROM network, and software configuration. Two Helpdesk technicians are in charge of first-level technical support, hardware repair, documentation, and user training. And a library automation administrator is in charge of the DRA automated system.

Eventually, the library plans to hire a digital services developer to plan and implement Web-based data services. The department is responsible for all electronic information systems within the district. As with most systems departments, there is much overlap in actual job functions.

Initially, we planned to purchase an off-the-shelf support desk software package. We wanted a system that would allow our users to input their own incident reports and work requests, and also allow us to create a knowledge base of support documents. We needed the system to be accessible from any computer in the district as well as from our home computers. In addition, we wanted the data to be exportable to common data formats so that we could use it for other purposes. It also had to be reasonably inexpensive. We looked at various commercial support desk packages, but they were all very expensive, resource-intensive, and limited to use by the systems staff.

Doing It Ourselves

At that point, we started discussing the possibility of creating an intranet server to publish information about our department. …

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