Calls and Chat Sessions and Emails, Oh My! Information Services Catches Its Breath

Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Evan Washechek and the rest of the Library’s information services team are ready to exhale. 

If life slowed for some during the restriction-filled, stay-at-home height of the pandemic, it got plain crazy for the Central Library-based team that handles phone, online chat, and email inquiries from the public. Back last August, they averaged more than 170 a day across the platforms – a nearly sixfold increase from pre-pandemic levels. “I liken it to being in the trenches,” says Washecheck, the Library’s information services supervisor. “There were days, especially in the summertime, when I really wouldn’t set the phone down.” 

With the Library’s wider reopening in June, it’s spreading out that workload. Branches again are answering phone calls and patron questions rather than using a centralized system, and new staffers at various locations have trained for reference work. Plus, as the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and many governmental and social service agencies move toward more normal operations, the volume of inquiries to the Library figures to slow, as well. 

Washechek’s staff also has doubled in size, from four fulltime equivalents to eight. Still, April brought  a little more than 3,600 calls, chat inquiries, and emails – nearly four times the pre-pandemic load. 

Evan Washechek oversees the team that helpfully answers patron questions and inquiries.
When Library buildings were closed in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, the team continued to field public calls, even setting up additional temporary call stations at Library locations.
Much of the surge owes directly to COVID. Questions poured in about citywide restrictions, about testing and vaccinations, about unemployment benefits and stimulus payments. Many others concerned the census before the mid-October reporting deadline.   

“I’m not from Kansas City,” Washechek says, “and answering all of these questions has given me an opportunity to do a ton of research that I wanted to do on my own time about the city, about things in the area, about Library policy (another frequent area of inquiry). I’ve been able to do that, and I think my team has way more expertise because of that sort of baptism by fire.  

“It was a tough time, but I think we got through it and a lot of patrons appreciated the help. They recognized the difficulty we had, too.”  

So they voted. Patrons can offer feedback on chat sessions, grading their satisfaction on a 1-to-4 scale. In the past year, April to April, the average was 3.85. “If we’re talking batting average, I think those are hall of fame numbers,” Washechek says.  


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