A long time ago in a library far, far away…

The chat buttons and boxes peppered across the library website have become an integral part of the library’s reference services. Our chat service was created by a former UNC librarian, Pam Sessoms, in 2008. We were the first users of what would eventually become LibraryH3lp, a library-focused chat service helping libraries everywhere serve their patrons over the Internet. Over the 2016-2017 school year, we’ve answered an average of 491 chats a month, for a total of 4491. That’s a lot of problems solved!

UNC Library’s long history with LibraryH3lp means we’ve watched it grow over the years. However, because we’ve been using it while it’s been growing, the number of accounts, queues, and chat box codes we have has grown as well. Plus, there are remnants of older versions of LibraryH3lp scattered throughout the website—still functional, but very out of date.

Backstage pass

A lot of our recent work with LibraryH3lp has been focused on cleaning up behind the scenes. The initial audit of what exactly was going on back there consisted of examining everything related to the chat boxes: we looked at user accounts, queues for chat box staff, stored code for all the public-facing widgets. We also tried to get a comprehensive list of all the public-facing chat boxes currently sitting on web pages.

With all these lists in mind, the next step was to verify what was in active use, and also how frequently they were used. We used LibraryH3lp’s built-in report-generating feature to get stats on all the queues and user accounts, in order to see how frequently they had been used in recent months. At the same time, we also identified what was obsolete and could be safely marked for deletion—things like user accounts for past employees or code for defunct chat boxes.

Cleaning up

Once we had a thorough audit of all things chat-related in LibraryH3lp, we started cleaning it up. The goal with this step was to clear out things that we knew were no longer needed, so it would be easier for staff to maintain and monitor all these things in the future.

The first step was the easiest: queues and user accounts that we knew for a fact to be unused or defunct were deleted immediately. This included accounts for past employees, queues to chat boxes that no longer existed, and unused chat box and button codes.

The next step was a little trickier, and required some help from LibraryH3lp staff. We had identified a couple cases where there were queues that were performing essentially the same function and decided to merge them into a single queue. While there wasn’t an easy way to do this on our end, LibraryH3lp staff was quick to help us with our requests.

The final step was to test everything and make sure it all worked as expected. We did this by sending test messages through all the chat queues that had been changed.

Makeover (& more)

We’re currently in the process of overhauling the look and feel of all the public-facing chat boxes and buttons. We want a cleaner, more inviting look that meshes better with the current library website.

You may have noticed that we’ve already rolled out a new chat button design on several pages, mainly the branch page sidebars. The previous chat button was a static image that had a very dated design. The new button is made of CSS and HTML and features custom-made icons. We’re excited to have an HTML/CSS-generated button because it turns the link to open a chat pop-up into text, improving the accessibility of our chat resources. A text link is easier for screen readers to process and easily found with a quick Ctrl+F search of the web page.

In the future, we’d like to continue updating the look and feel of our chat resources, focusing on the chat box skins. We also hope to update the rest of our chat buttons for a uniform look across the entire website. Keep an eye out for them!

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