Printer Friendly

DIY FAQs: bringing your web content home.

The University of Toronto (UT) Libraries is a large, decentralized library system. We have 44 libraries on three campuses, only a handful of which use the same reporting structure. Public service staff does not receive the same training, and policies on everything from circulation to food can vary widely from library to library. In short, navigating our library system can be challenging for our 84,000 full-time equivalent users.

Research completed in the system shows that the majority of users prefer independent options when dealing with service-related tasks, such as printing or accessing the Wi-Fi, as opposed to the more hands-on approach of research and writing assistance. Users expect self-service tasks to be relatively easy to accomplish and are easily frustrated by obstacles. To address the desire for self-service efficiency, we envisioned a suite of high-quality, point-of-need webpages about library policies, facilities, resources, and basic research skills that could be accessed at any time, from any location, and reused as needed.

Enter LibAnswers

We purchased a subscription to Springshare's LibAnswers in 2010 and implemented it in 2011. At the time, the product was mainly a FAQ platform. Users could search the FAQ knowledgebase by keyword or browse by topic. If they didn't see a FAQ that matched their needs, they could submit one that we would answer privately. If we felt the question was generalizable, we could anonymize it and turn it into a public FAQ.

Representatives from four of the largest libraries at UT and the administrators of our LibGuides' site were involved in the implementation process. We seeded the public knowledgebase with questions that public service staff members frequently encountered and set up a procedure for handling the private questions. A staff member would monitor the inbox and either answer incoming questions herself or assign questions to the appropriate library's reference email inbox. The library would then log in to LibAnswers to respond to the question privately.

We were very pleased by the uptake of the FAQ knowledgebase. Library staff members were using the content in their public service work and in their teaching activities. Since we also had LibGuides, we could easily link to and even embed LibAnswers' content, reducing duplication of effort.

UT belongs to a consortial chat reference service in which operators from 13 libraries across the province answer questions from UT users. These remote operators greatly appreciated our LibAnswers FAQs, because they frequently had to answer hyper-specific questions about library policies and facilities. (1) The two services complemented each other nicely.

Our public knowledgebase grew to 451 public FAQs during the next 4 years. We served 4,160 private questions in that same time. They were almost exclusively too specific to the individual to become a public FAQ. Questions about fines, renewals, or the availability of specific items in our collection were the norm.

We had difficulty triaging the private questions. Most of the participating libraries were primarily using email or our ticketing system, JIRA, for the bulk of their email reference. When a LibAnswers question was assigned, it was easier to reply to the user via those primary email reference channels. Replying through LibAnswers became more of a hassle than a help.

Upgrade or Get Off the Pot

Springshare announced LibAnswers 2 in 2014. We determined that the upgrade would not work for us for several reasons:

* LibAnswers was now a complete virtual-reference platform.

Unfortunately, UT Libraries is far too decentralized to take advantage of the platform as it is meant to be used. LibAnswers worked for us as one element of a larger virtual-reference suite of services.

* It was impossible to un-bundle. The text messaging and chat modules cannot be extricated from the rest of the package. Since we are committed to our consortial chat service, LibAnswers 2 would have put us in the position of paying for features we would not use.

* The back end would require retraining staffers. The new platform was significantly different from LibAnswers 1. Since most libraries involved used LibAnswers rarely, we anticipated that it would be challenging to learn another new system. We had recently implemented LibGuides 2, so we were aware of the work involved with migrating a site and retraining authors.

We did not want to upgrade, but we also could not stay on the current platform forever. Springshare assured us that LibAnswers 1 would not be going away any time soon, but it hinted that it would be discontinued eventually.

We needed an alternative that would disrupt our users and public service staff members as little as possible. An ideal solution would allow us to do the following:

* Provide a mobile-responsive and web-accessible database of FAQs

* Organize our FAQs by topic and library

* Search our FAQ database by keyword

* Add new FAQs at staffers' or users' request

* Solicit feedback about the usefulness of each FAQ

* Highlight timely FAQs

* Auto-publish or unpublish FAQs

* Reuse FAQs in multiple places

We did not need to replace the private question functionality of LibAnswers, because we had other, more integrated email reference channels.

Drupal to the Rescue

Drupal ( is open source, highly customizable content management software that can be modified with any of the thousands of supplementary add-ons. We had been using it to power our library webpages for the past 5 years, so our IT services staff members were already proficient with the platform. We were confident that we could adapt it to suit the needs of our FAQ knowledgebase.

We started by creating a content type (see that mimics all of the fields we had in LibAnswers. This included question title and detail, answer text, and additional links. Springshare provided us with the images we had stored on its servers, which we added to our content servers. Then, we imported our LibAnswers content into Drupal using the JSON file available in LibAnswers' back end. We modified the file first, so that it looked for images on our servers.

We then created a View (see drupal .org/node/2287909) to provide a searchable and browsable interface for our FAQ database that included the ability to feature FAQs. Next, we styled the View and the individual FAQ pages using CSS. Since it was already part of the main library website's accessible, mobile-responsive web theme, the FAQs looked and felt similar to the rest of the site with minimal tweaking.

We matched each FAQ with the individual staff members who are responsible for keeping the FAQs up-to-date and compliant with our web style guide. Some library staff members who were involved in LibAnswers did not have Drupal experience, so we created documentation on our intranet to help them learn to create new FAQs and modify existing ones.

Meanwhile in LibAnswers, we closed the question form and hid it using CSS (see 886). We added an info/alert box to every page to let users know that the content might be out-of-date and to look on our new site. Then, we asked Springshare to de-index our LibAnswers site on Google.

Now that the FAQs were safely in Drupal, we worked on incorporating them into our other web spaces. Our integrated library search had been pulling LibAnswers, so we replaced the API. (See a sample search here: onesearch .library, We updated all of the links to LibAnswers in our footers, navigation, and contact pages. Our LibAnswers subscription is active until August 2016, so we have several months to catch any links to the old site we may have missed and transition users to the new Drupal FAQs. We will be monitoring the incoming traffic to LibAnswers through Google Analytics to catch any remaining links that need to be changed.

Easing the Transition Process

Clear and proactive communications allowed us to create a smooth transition from LibAnswers to Drupal. Prior to the project, we met with our stakeholders to discuss options for a new FAQ platform, reviewing LibAnswers 2 and examining what other options were available. The group supported the idea of moving our knowledgebase into Drupal. From that point on, we committed to communicating regularly with staffers about the migration, offering opportunities for feedback.

Once a working version of the new FAQs was available, we circulated the beta site widely for input and feedback. During this time, FAQ authors and public service staffers were consulted, ensuring that all issues had been addressed and that everyone was comfortable working in Drupal before our launch. We announced the migration date and details by email to a wider range of staff members, emphasizing that there would be no down time.

We migrated the FAQ service to Drupal before the holiday break at the end of 2015--a time when we knew that usage of the service would be low and technical staffers would be available to support the transition. We completed the migration successfully, without disruption in service to our users and without any support needed from staff members.

Next Steps

We will miss LibAnswers. Aspects of the first version worked well for us for many years, and the second version seems to be a strong solution for libraries that are able to implement it fully. However, we are confident that we have made the correct choice for our particular needs.

There remains plenty of work to do on our FAQ knowledgebase. We plan to revise and condense the content and to rethink the topic tags, drawing on our ongoing user experience research. We also plan to apply an additional tag taxonomy to help UT libraries with idiosyncratic FAQs to more easily pull their content.

We hope that our experience inspires other libraries to bring third-party services back into the library when possible, allowing greater control over content and user experience, as well as providing long-term cost-savings to the organization.

Judith Logan (judith.logan@] is user services librarian at Robarts Library Reference and Research Service at the University of Toronto Libraries. Logan works with the library's IT services department on web content strategy and maintenance in addition to her public service and liaison role.

Lisa Gayhart (lisa.gayhart@ is user experience librarian for IT services at the University of Toronto Libraries. Gayhart's work currently focuses on improving and unifying the libraries' core digital services, such as library websites, the catalog, and various research tools.

Features of LibAnswers 2

* Scheduled publication status on a certain date

* Public FAQs segmented by groups

* Private questions, emails, tweets, and text messages become tickets

* Private questions organized into queues for multiple service points

* LibChat chat reference module

* Text message reference module

* Reference analytics statistics tracking module

* Library system status management module

* Embed feedback widgets

* LibGuides integration

For a complete list of features, see libanswers/training/movingtov2.

Tips for Communicating Change

Whether you are contemplating a platform move or an existing system upgrade, it's essential to communicate the change effectively.

Here are some tips from our experience:

* Build a (realistic) communications plan with deadlines and associated tasks.

* Get early buy-in from key stakeholders to ensure early and smooth take up of the new product.

* Communicate progress and next steps regularly with your team, current users, and product stakeholders.

* Be transparent about the process, your end goal, and how the change will impact your users' day-to-day lives.

* Ensure that feedback collection is obvious and easy. Respond to feedback in a quick and consistent manner.

* Incorporate useful feedback, and report back about these changes.

* Celebrate your transition to the new product.


(1.) Logan, Judith, Klara Maidenberg, and Michelle Spence. 2013. "What Do They Want to Know? Assessing the Use of Virtual Reference Systems in a Large Canadian Academic Library." In ALA Annual Conference 2013. Chicago. ala13.ala.orghode/12103.
COPYRIGHT 2016 Information Today, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Logan, Judith; Gayhart, Lisa
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
Previous Article:Going the third way: developing custom software solutions for your library.
Next Article:Digital privacy is important too.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters