Pandemic Library Tech: Phone Reference

When we all first started working from home, we didn’t worry about getting phone reference up and running. Chat and email were a lot easier; we’d start there and see how it went.

Since then, our reopening to the public has been pushed back until at least June 29. And you know what that means? That means it’s time to figure out phone reference. Not all of our patrons have access to (or the knowledge to use) chat and email.

Ideas I Considered But Threw Out

  1. Just have the normal reference phone forward to the reference librarian(s) on duty

    This idea failed because IT informed us that our phones can only forward to one number at a time. Technically I guess we could maybe swap out which phone got forwarded to, every time we switched shifts? But that sounds like a lot of work, plus having only one person able to answer the phone for reference isn’t ideal. This one might be worth looking into if you’re a tiny library, or you’re flat broke and have no other options.
  2. Google Voice

    It seemed like genius–just create a free account and every everyone login and monitor it from their computer during their shifts. The thing I forgot? Privacy. No way I’m letting Google listen in on our patrons’ calls / save their voicemails / anything of the sort. Nope. Not happening. I’d rather do without phones.
  3. MightyCall

    I started looking for cheap options that would let us ring all 8 of our working reference librarians’ phones at once, without having to pay by user. MightyCall looked super promising, and I got really excited by their offer for 3 months free for non-profits, municipal government, etc. It sounded amazing! But then I read their privacy policy and got a little worried… so I emailed them and asked a bunch of stuff about privacy.

    They were really great about getting back to me, but their answer was that they’re not HIPAA compliant, your calls and voicemail get saved “temporarily” as data on their servers, and they would absolutely hand that over to law enforcement or other governmental requests.

    So… that’s a nonstarter. Reference phone calls need to be private.

Product I Think We’re Going With

It’s not finalized yet–I’m still waiting for a few more details from the vendor, and then I need to sort out which budget line will pay for this–but I think we’ll likely be going with Talkroute. They are HIPAA compliant as long as you don’t use their texting or voicemail-to-email features. I have an email out to them about what exactly that entails, but I doubt I’m likely to do better.

If my library got Talkroute’s “Plus” plan, we could have calls ring simultaneously to the computer of as many of our 8 reference librarians as we wanted. We could also do some handy-sounding things like having a special message that patrons would hear if they called outside of the hours that we’re offering reference. And $39 / month isn’t hideously expensive (pricing page here).

Update 5/16/20: Talkroute doesn’t actually mean “there is no limit” when they say the Plus plan has “unlimited” talk minutes. Based on our estimated use (phone reference is pretty darn popular for us), we’d have to go with the Enterprise plan… which is $99 / month rather than $39. Expletives. Will we do it anyway? Maybe. Talkroute seems to be the best on privacy, and every other vendor I’ve been able to turn up has the same asterisk next to where they claim they offer unlimited minutes. WTF, vendors? WTF?

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