Our next guest post in this series is a collaborative one from Erin Pawlus, Assistant Administrator, Arizona Talking Book Library, and Jared Leslie, Director of Media Services, Foundation for Blind Children.
Our teleworking adventures at the Arizona Talking Book library began on March 23, 2020. At that time, we had about half our staff working on site on an alternating schedule, with the rest working from home. Since then, we have managed to pare it down to about 5 people in the building at a time. Other than the regular trill of phone calls, it has been remarkably quiet. At the time of this writing, we are closed to the public through May 15, 2020, so we encourage our readers to contact us by phone or e-mail.
So, who will you find if you were to tour our library? A supervisor is always on site, as well as someone to forward phone calls. Staff who work from home pick up their voicemail messages and return calls. They are currently using their cell phones and we ask that they block their phone numbers for privacy. If the patron does not accept blocked calls, someone from the office will act as the messenger in those cases and relay information. We are exploring our options for improving phone service while teleworking, but our temporary solution has allowed us to continue serving our patrons during a difficult time.
The Certification Specialist, and staff providing backup, review incoming applications to confirm eligibility a few times a week instead of daily. Since the Reader Advisors are not in the office to receive the applications, basic contact information is entered into KLAS so that the librarians have enough information to call and set up service.
Our volunteers have not yet returned to the library, so book and magazine production in our local recording studio has been put on hold. However, our Studio Manager is back in the booth to narrate Arizona Highways magazine. This is a particularly popular publication for our readers.
The machine agents are available by phone at their home offices to accept requests for equipment and to assist with BARD. Twice a week, the Machine Services Supervisor comes in to prepare mail shipments.
While mail service for books has continued, it has been necessary to decrease the number of materials that we send each day so that we can limit on-site staff and maintain social distancing in the mailroom. We started with a maximum of 650 books a day – a far cry from the 2000 we typically allowed. With a little tinkering we were able to move the needle back to 1000 and have struck a decent balance. We also quarantine books and machines for seven days before they are available for the next patron, which is another important step that has nonetheless slowed down mail processes.
We were soon alerted to an interesting consequence of not serving all patrons needing books every day. While we understood that it may take several more days to ship, patrons were calling in who had not been served in weeks. When we reviewed the issue with Keystone, we discovered that it was because we were giving priority to patrons who were Nightly List Only and being served from specific book requests, leaving the Nightly Autoselect patrons being served by general reading interests to languish and the end of the list. In a normal world, this makes sense – if a patron has specific requests, they should be served before the patron who is happy with what we have in stock. However, this is not a normal world. We switched the order and gradually chipped away at our backlog.
The sudden and unexpected changes to our schedule and workflow have accelerated other projects, however. For example, our agency had provided training on Microsoft Teams starting late last year, but we were not quick to make it a part of our daily routine. Now, we all stay in regular contact through chats and virtual meetings.
Our library has also received the Scribe for duplicating multiple books on a cartridge. We had completed a staff and patron pilot and were starting to introduce it to patrons as they called in with book requests. As our traditional mail service slowed, we offered it to our patrons as a quicker option - we have been able to maintain a next-day turnaround for these orders. While it has been a unique challenge to launch a new service during an uncertain time, many patrons were willing to give it a try. Since early March, we have transitioned over 900 patrons and currently mail out an average of 160 cartridges a day!
We stay in contact with others in our community and partner organizations. Our Instructional Resource Center for Arizona, The Foundation for Blind Children, and the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind, continue to request print/braille books that are produced by the National Library Service. Our Youth Services and Engagement Librarian has worked with Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) to create weekly virtual programs for their students. She also plays with the recently purchased Cricut machine to prepare tactile cut-outs for the upcoming Imagine Your Story Summer Reading Program.
We asked for an update from the Instructional Resource Center for Arizona and they informed us that they began teleworking on March 16, 2020. At a full capacity, they have nine people that are on site supporting thousands of students throughout the state. Most of the team utilizes a desktop computer, so like most organizations they had to secure more laptops to allow for remote access. However, their tech and inventory department was able to secure them the weekend before telecommuting began. Within a day of their tech department receiving the much-needed workstations they were able to get one in the hands of every team member.
Onsite they limited the number of staff to two and had the remaining seven work from home. Each day the staff members on site rotate. This system has allowed for many unintended benefits. They have two main functions: 1.) Producing physical braille and mailing that to districts and customers. 2.) Pulling federal quota items and mailing them out to districts and students. Having rotating team members allowed for cross training for every team member, and those that had specialized roles now were coaching how others could jump in and help.
Everyone has found a way through with trial and error and continue to discover new or different ways to do business. We are not sure what everything will look like in the future, but we have picked up some valuable new skills and a shifting perspective on what is possible... more than we could have imagined. I am encouraged by my staff and our patrons, who have demonstrated amazing grace and resiliency during a high-stress time. Listening to the voices, and sometimes the tears, of our patrons on the line has made it clear to me how truly essential this program is in the lives of the people we serve.