Guest Post: Using New Technology to Save Money and Improve Service (Part 2)

By Mary Anne Hodel |

In this second installment of her guest posts to our blog, Mary Anne Hodel provides more insight into how the Orange County (Florida) Library System has used technology to streamline services and save money.

--Dan Freeman

Recently, our library purchased a small number of iPod Touch devices. Since these devices function on our existing staff wireless network, they enable staff to handle a number of daily tasks conveniently at a relatively low cost. Without the need to get to a desktop or even a laptop, our staff can input statistics on patron interaction. For instance, we’ve automated our “reference statistics” function so that staff need only enter a few points of information  into the iPod, then they can move on to the next patron transaction. We’re also able to do catalog searches, check for materials on the shelves and place holds, all while still physically in the stacks with the patron.

Our staff created this video to demonstrate these services:

In 2006, OCLS implemented OLIVE, a real time, IP based videoconferencing solution that connects customers at four different locations throughout the library to our centralized call center. Customers walk up to what appears to be a telephone with a 15" flat screen monitor. In actuality, the device is a Tandberg IP-based high speed videoconferencing unit that uses a high performance hardware codec to transmit TV quality audio and video in a real-time 2-way conversation with staff at in our centralized call center. Staff can perform account functions, answer questions, and even display web pages remotely. The beauty of the OLIVE service is the simplicity of the customer interface. Patrons simply pick up a telephone handset and are immediately connected to a library staffer. To the end user, there is no computer application, no interface to learn, no keyboard, mouse, microphone, or headset--just a simple telephone and a monitor with an image.

You can watch the system in action here:

We've also simplified our job application process using an existing, well-known website. By transitioning to an online system for accepting job applications on, we've been able to provide a better avenue to receive job applicants and provide a method for easily tracking and date stamping applications. This has saved us countless hours of work, because we always know who, how many and when applicants have applied for a given position without the need for staff to keep track of this information manually. The applicant receives an automatically generated message that shows that their application was received and the date and time at which it was received. It allows us to store and retrieve all applications electronically, thus freeing up Human Resources staff to focus more on the interviews and face-to-face interactions.   

The Guide by Cell system has been a perfect solution for the many requests we receive for tours of our building. It also provides customers with information about our services and the many artifacts we have on display at our Main Library. Using their own cell phones, patrons can receive guidance through the physical library, freeing the staff from this responsibility. Individual listening posts, marked by a unique identifying sign, point out the spot being described, and by dialing the number of one’s cell phone, enable the customer to hear information about the featured service or the details about an artifact. The customer can control the volume according to personal needs, and dial in to the objects or services in which he or she is most interested. This system has eliminated staffing hours that had previously been devoted to giving library tours to individuals and small groups that visit our historic building.

OCLS is also using technology to provide better service while saving money by conducting Tech classes and Tutorials online. OCLS has been in the business of providing high end hands-on technology classes since 2002. The classes are offered at all locations and are quite popular in the community. Over 12,871 classes were given last year and we are already at 8657 classes this year, indicating that we will probably conduct a greater number than we did last year.

No matter when classes are scheduled or how frequently, there are always some customers whose schedule does not match up with our offerings for the month. Our remedy for this was to offer them as online classes and tutorials on line. The online classes use Adobe Connect to provide the screen and audio feed for each of the classes. The most popular online classes are the Photoshop, QuickBooks, and the GANTT Project series. Tutorials are prerecorded and can help a customer decide which level of a given class is most appropriate for his or her skill level. The online tutorials are also an excellent way to brush up on technology skills that attendees may not use on a regular basis. By offering these tutorials to our customers, we are able to provide high quality content to people in the community on a “one to many” basis rather than simply on a “one on one” basis.

Among the tutorials we offer are MSFT Access; Level 1; Excel level 1; Powerpoint Level 1; Publisher Level 1; MSFT Word level1 & 2; Writing Business Letters; Resume Writing; Adding an RSS feed to a Yahoo account and Connecting to the WIFI network. More are being developed and many are also offered on in Spanish and Haitian Creole.

This type of technology has had virtually no downside for our library. It has helped us increase the technological knowledge in our community while saving us money and allowing our staff to provide services more efficiently. As more new technology emerges, we look forward continuing to use it to expand our services.