Help-Desk Policies and Procedures

As with any other department, your IT department becomes more difficult to manage the more it grows. If you’re the only employee at your library, you probably don’t need formal help-desk policies. However, if there are 500 employees in your system, it’s more important to have some written procedures.

Why Formalize Your Support Policies and Procedures?

  • Policies and procedures ensure fairness. Without some forethought and a written policy, you’ll open yourself to charges of favoritism. Why was Barbara’s PC fixed before Cindy’s even though Cindy submitted her request first?
  • Priorities and standards give your employees some idea of what to expect. They know roughly how long it takes to fix or replace a hard drive, how long it takes to order a new monitor, make a change to the web site, etc.
  • Service standards give managers a benchmark they can use to measure performance.

What’s the Library’s Procedure for Handling Help Requests?

  • Do you have a central point of contact for librarians with a tech support problem? If some librarians email Marty, others email Jane, others use the phone, and others just drop by, support issues are more likely to get lost or delayed. Consider designating a single digital point of contact (e.g., an email address or a Web form) and a single analog point of contact (e.g., a phone number).
  • How does IT communicate back to the end user? Do they send a reply to each support request indicating that the message was received? Do they periodically send updates if the problem can’t be resolved in the first attempt? Do they check up afterwards to make sure the problem was resolved to the end user’s satisfaction?
  • Do first-level IT staff know how to escalate a problem? In other words, if a technician can’t solve a problem, who do they turn to? It may vary, depending on the type of problem. Sometimes, they’ll escalate to another tech; other times, they might escalate to a vendor or a consultant.
  • Can anyone in the library call the help-desk, or do support requests go through a designated person at each branch? See the following stories from Jaketha Farmer and Paul Ericsson.

What Are Your Help-Desk Priorities?

A simple first-come, first-serve queue makes sense for some problems. But if your web-site is offline and one of your catalogers is having trouble changing his desktop background image, which problem should you address first? OK, that’s easy, but other questions are more difficult to answer. For example, is a manager’s request automatically given a higher priority? If your Web server and your mail server are both giving you trouble, which one should you fix first?

Help-desk policies often define different “impact levels.” For instance, a problem that affects multiple users or the entire library has a higher impact than something affecting one or two librarians. A problem with no workaround has a higher impact than one with a workaround.

Furthermore, help-desks frequently distinguish between problem tickets, which render a critical component inoperable, and project tickets, such as the installation of new software or the creation of a new user account. Problem tickets usually receive a higher priority.

Should You Have a Service Level Agreement?

A Service Level Agreement, or SLA, goes beyond a simple statement of priorities. An SLA includes formal goals for your IT department to shoot for in terms of reliability and response times. For instance, an SLA might specify that the library’s web site will be available 99 percent of the time.

Even if you don’t institute service-level standards for every aspect of your tech support, you can establish standards for some of the more important elements. For example, you might associate a standard response time with each of the impact levels mentioned previously. Impact level I (i.e., top-priority incidents) will be resolved within a day.

Of course, you have to talk to your IT department to find out which goals are reasonable and which ones aren’t. Also, you should only set goals for the outcomes you know how to measure. Don’t promise a one-day turnaround on an issue if there isn’t a system in place to track turnaround times and report on them.

Stories from the Field

The technology plan also included a Service Level Agreement with city IT, essentially saying, ‘This is the level of service that we’d expect from IT, and this is what the library staff can do, what our responsibilities are in relation to library technology equipment and how far we’d go for the public.’ And there’s a point where we have to say, ‘Okay, we need to call in IT to take care of this.’ And the Service Level Agreement guarantees a response time and availability of library computers. If something breaks, you need to be here within so many hours, so many days, depending on the emergency, and that helped us have a better relationship with the city IT because it sort of said, ‘Here’s really our need,’ and it kind of woke them up as far as understanding what our needs are, and they’ve been more responsive in doing that, and with the agreement, it’s just been a lot better.

Jeff Scott
Casa Grande Public Library, AZ

We don’t necessarily have anybody [who] has been having special training at each branch, but as of last week, I required all branches to submit what I called an IT chain of command instead of everybody coming to me about problems, support staff, or managers and different people. It got to the point where if I repaired a problem and told anybody who was working at the desk at that particular time, ‘Hey, this problem is fixed,’ I still had people coming to me constantly, constantly, constantly. So I told them to put together an IT chain of command. The number one person on the list must be the branch manager.That is the person who is responsible for the technology at their branch. They have to know what’s going on, when is it going on, how is it going on, has it been fixed, has it not been fixed. Basically, they are responsible for keeping up with IT in their branch. They also have the opportunity to put on a second and a third person. The second person would just take the place of the branch manager when they’re not there. If that second person is not there, the third person I encouraged them to put [is] someone who works over the weekend. All three of them are supposed to work together, and they are supposed to know what’s going on. And those are the only people [who] I talk to at that branch as far as technology is concerned. Nobody else can come to me and ask me about what’s going on. The branch manager is also the person who is going to have access to the help-desk.

Jaketha Farmer
Bossier Parish Libraries, LA

In other consortiums where I’ve worked, it seems to me that it’s a pretty typical model that central office or the consortium or regional headquarters or whatever wants to have a single point of contact at the branch library so that there’s coordination and communication. [Also,] [I think] it’s more of a ‘train the trainer’ kind of model so that the branch person then takes on some responsibility and feels empowered to train staff at their local branch. They’re regular library staff. Here, our tech person, she has many, many responsibilities, but I believe that she just kind of bubbled up to the top of the heap as a person [who is] most interested and most adept at technology.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Further Resources

For more information about help-desk policies and procedures, check out the Further Resources section.