Guest Post: Using New Technology to Save Money and Improve Service

By Mary Anne Hodel |

We're always looking to explore how libraries around the world are using new technologies to their improve access and services. To that end, we're extremely lucky to have Mary Anne Hodel, director of the Orange County (Florida) library system as a guest on our blog. Thanks to her innovative thinking, OCLS is a recognized leader in technology and was the first public library in the nation to offer RSS feeds. OCLS also became a very early adopter of providing free wi-fi access to library cardholders.  Orange County's roving reference with Vocera, virtual library, and mystery shopper programs have been recognized as national models.

Mary Anne has been director and CEO of the Orange County Library System since January 2002. Before coming to Florida, Hodel was director of the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan, which received the 1997 LJ/Gale  National Library of Year award under her guidance.  Prior to that, she was Chief of the State Library Resource Center at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. Hodel has also worked as a librarian for the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Her library experience also includes working as a cataloger at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and multiple management positions at the Natural Resources Library of the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Hodel has a master of library science degree from Catholic University of America and a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

In the first of two guest posts, she'll be discussing how her library has used Vocera to bolster their services and improve communication between staff members.

-Dan Freeman

The Orange County Library System is always on the lookout for any technology that can either save us money or improve customer satisfaction. It is always fun to find a product that can do both for us.

We have been using a wonderful system known as Vocera since 2003. Vocera is a voice communication platform that provides instant voice communication through a small  hands-free communication badge with intelligent system software run over a wireless network. We were the first library of any type to utilize it. We thought this device, which was designed to help hospitals locate staff spread out across many square feet of building space, could provide some mobility to us at our Main Library building, which is 220,000 square feet spread out over six floors of a downtown location. 

Our staff members were scattered across different service points of the building, some of them at multiple service points on the same floor. We were in the process of eliminating the multiple staffing points, and our discovery of Vocera enabled us to do that faster than we thought would be possible while still providing customers the opportunity to interact with a staff member in a positive way. The small badge-like device, worn around the neck on a lanyard, is a voice transmitter and receiver that connects to our wi-fi system for immediate voice communication with key personnel.

Staff can log in at the start of their shift and Vocera finds them electronically anywhere within the building and sends them a voice message when someone is paging them. It then connects them and enables them to carry on a conversation in the hallway, in the stacks, in the elevator, in an office, or wherever they happen to be at the moment. Vocera also connects to the telephone system and allows staff members to dial an outside line and carry on a conversation with a patron who may be outside of the physical building.

Our website has a video that shows Vocera in action:

The Vocera system also integrates with our traditional phone system, allowing to staff place and receive calls to and from standard phones. This capability has allowed us to implement no-dial Courtesy Phones where customers pick up a wall mounted telephone headset and are immediately connected to Vocera-enabled staff on the same floor.

Vocera has also been installed at one of our branches and staff from that branch can carry on spontaneous conversations in real-time with staff at the main library.

Vocera has helped us make maximum use our of staff and allowed us to provide greater coverage of customer service areas while piggy-backing on our wi-fi system. It makes high quality mobile reference a reality. The learning curve has proven to be ideal--the time it has taken for our staff to learn how to use it successfully has been very brief.  Vocera is so intuitive that the hardest part of the learning process was training staff not to put it in their pockets, as this muffles the voice transmission and interferes with the wi-fi connection. 

We have been able to reduce the number of telephone instruments in the public part of the building, which saves us money, and we have been able to maximize the use of our most talented staff by allowing them to wander and rove the building to provide assistance to the customers, especially when their requests involve multiple parts of the collection located in disparate parts of the building.

The system promotes productivity, teamwork and customer service. Since installing Vocera, we have had requests for information and requests to come see it in action from 36 libraries including Baillien Library, University of Melbourne, Victoria Australia;  Library of New South Wales, Australia; Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County; Columbus Metropolitan Library, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library.