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User support for a library.managed online database search service: the BMA Library Free MEDLINE Service

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User support for a library.managed online database search service: the BMA Library Free MEDLINE Service By Jane Rowlands Sub-Librarian, Database Services Jane Yeadon Assistant Librarian, Systems William
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User support for a library.managed online database search service: the BMA Library Free MEDLINE Service By Jane Rowlands Sub-Librarian, Database Services Jane Yeadon Assistant Librarian, Systems William Forrester Head of Development Tony McSean Librarian BMA Library BMA House Tavistock Square London WC1H 9JP United Kingdom This paper discusses user support in the context of a library-managed online database search service. Experience is drawn from the British Medical Association (BMA) Library's Free MEDLINE Service. More than 9,600 BMA members, who are largely unfamiliar with computer communications and database searching, have registered as users of the service. User support has played a significant role in the development of the service and has comprised four main aspects: an information pack, a help desk, online help, and MEDLINE courses. The paper includes an analysis of help desk usage statistics collected from January 1996 through June 1996, and highlights other relevant research. Plans for further service enhancements and their implications in terms of future user support are discussed. INTRODUCTION Since November 1992 the British Medical Association (BMA) Library has maintained a full copy of the MED- LINE database, providing dial-up access to members located throughout the United Kingdom (UK). The database is installed on an OVID Technologies system, which handles access by up to twenty simultaneous users, at any time of the day or night. Access is free except for basic communication charges. More than 9,600 BMA members have registered as users of the MEDLINE service. Support for these users, who are largely unfamiliar with computer communications and database searching, has been an overriding concern in the provision of the service. The four major areas in which user support has been concentrated are user documentation, a help desk, online help, and MED- LINE courses. Help desk use statistics collected from January 1996 through June 1996 were analyzed in order to identify likely future staff and equipment requirements, and to assess the current effectiveness of the service. In the present study, plans are discussed for further developments in the service and their implications in terms of future user support. USER DOCUMENTATION Webb [1] provides basic guidelines on writing effective user manuals. She stresses the importance of planning, consistency, and attention to the needs of the intended audience. The BMA followed these guidelines in developing user documentation. Each member registering for the BMA Library's Free MEDLINE Service receives a comprehensive start-up information pack. The original pack was developed with Webb's guidelines, and has been updated twice. The first update was done in response to feedback from members involved in a pilot test of the service, described by Rowlands et al. [2]; the second after an Bull Med Libr Assoc 85(3) July Rowlands et al. upgrade from the CD PLUS (v. 2.1) to the OVID (v. 3.0) version of the MEDLINE system interface in June The information pack in current use is distributed in a large, distinctive wallet, and contains the following items: 1. An application form for a log-on name. 2. A separately colored, one-page reminder of the logon procedure. This has been added to the pack in an attempt reduce the number of help desk calls received from users confused by the system's three-stage security log-on procedure. 3. A user guide with details concerning * purchasing appropriate hardware and software, * telephone numbers and log-on procedure, * performing a simple subject and author search, * printing and downloading search results, and * answers to frequently asked questions. 4. Settings for a range of popular communications software packages. 5. A detailed search guide from OVID Technologies' documentation. 6. Detailed information about how to gain access to the MEDLINE system via telnet through the Joint Academic Network (JANET) X-25 system. 7. A list of MEDLINE course dates and fact sheets describing library services. Members are invited to request further course details and copies of any of the library service fact sheets. HELP DESK SUPPORT Very little has been written to date concerning computer help desk support in a library setting, although this is likely to be an increasingly important area of activity for the profession. The literature has concentrated primarily on help desk support in business and industry. Czegel [3] and Bruton [4] are examples. Their work addressed the following major considerations: 1. Establishing the overall focus of the help desk: This task involves setting and reviewing objectives that are clear to both users and management, and defining clearly which services will and will not be provided. 2. Organizing the basic structure of the help desk and work management programs: Cartwright [5] suggests that the structure of a computer help desk can range from little or no dedicated support to partially or more technically skilled staff on the front line backed up by one or two further layers of expertise. He argues that while the use of technically skilled staff to operate the help desk places the most demands on resources, it is the most attractive option for the user. In most cases the structure will be a compromise, in which the costs of skilled background technicians are balanced by less-skilled frontline staff. A three-layer structure is appropriate only in situations in which support is required, particularly when external users are involved. Kalin [6] discusses the types of individuals who should work with remote users. Key skills identified include an in-depth knowledge of the system, a friendly personality, an ability to listen and understand the user's perspective, and a willingness to offer alternatives for assistance. 3. Help desk tools: Users may contact the help desk through a number of means, including the telephone, voice mail, , or a personal visit, or by filling in standard paper query forms. Each method has its own particular advantages and disadvantages. Help desk tools (both automated and manual) allow the staff to track and manage calls, solve problems, answer questions, and monitor system use. 4. Measuring help desk performance: The staff needs to obtain a general picture of help desk performance, from the perspective of both managers and users. Data collected can be used to train staff, improve the performance and efficiency of the help desk, and increase customer satisfaction. Call tracking is important in measuring help desk performance. 5. Promoting the help desk: Promotion of help desk facilities to users is vital if the service is to succeed. The help desk also needs to be promoted to the management. This is often difficult because a help desk has no tangible product. Help desk benefits must be measured in terms of customer relation benefits and cost and efficiency savings both to the organization providing the help desk and to external users. Help desks have the potential to be major marketing tools, vital components of overall customer support, and stimuli for product or service development ideas. Marcella [7] describes a recent British Library research project designed to bring together current theory and practice regarding help desks and to establish the key factors in successful help desk development and operation. Success factors and operational problems identified by the project involve all the considerations listed above. Success factors include exploitation of the help desk as an information resource and the level of autonomy of the help desk as well as the extent of its resources. Operational problems include the increasing sophistication and scope of information that may be sought and the tendency of organizations to fragment rather than consolidate help desk functions. Marcella suggests that many of the issues facing help desk managers are not dissimilar to those that have long faced library reference services. It may well be that practitioners in both fields can leam from each other. The same considerations have greatly influenced the design and day-to-day management of the BMA MEDLINE service help desk. The help desk is open to 246 Bull Med Libr Assoc 85(3) July 1997 User support all BMA members and others who provide members with technical assistance. The help desk supports stand-alone IBM-compatible and Macintosh communications hardware and software. All modern Hayescompatible modems are supported, as are any communications packages able to run a true VT-100 or VT-102 emulation. Simple set-up instructions for approximately thirty communications packages have been written and if not provided in the original information pack, can be ed, faxed, or posted upon request. The help desk supports all OVID MEDLINE search facilities, online printing (not possible with all communication packages), downloading of search results through a range of file transfer protocols, reviewing of downloaded results with any word processor, and the importing of downloaded references into four major personal bibliographic software packages (Reference Manager, ProCite, End Note, and Papyrus). Help desk staff members have contacted major U.K. family practice and public health system suppliers (e.g., AAH Meditel, Vamp, Emis, and Epinet) to assist family and public health physicians wishing to access the MEDLINE service through these systems. The MEDLINE help desk telephone lines are staffed between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. each week day. An answering machine records telephone messages at other times. One to two queries per day are received by or fax. Responses are made by telephone, , or fax. The growth of the MEDLINE service during the past year has required an increase in staff from one to two skilled front-line members. Both of these staff members are normally available to take calls for half of the working week, and one is available for the remainder of the time. Additional technical advice is provided by another member of staff, who operates as a second layer of help desk support and deals primarily with queries on a referral basis. Help desk tools include * an IBM-compatible computer loaded with thirty communications packages; * a Macintosh loaded with five communications packages; * a laptop running Windows 95 loaded with Hyperterminal and pcanywhere for Windows 95; * WordPerfect for Windows and Word for Windows; * full or demonstration copies of Reference Manager, ProCite, End Note, and Papyrus; * access to a range of manuals for communications software and modems; * set-up instructions for thirty-five different packages prepared by help desk staff and available for printing, faxing, or upon request; and * a file containing answers to uncommon problems and queries. Help desk telephone calls are documented with a paper form. Later, the data are entered into an Excel workbook. Items recorded include caller details, date, time, nature of the query, response given, time taken to reply (on the telephone and posting or faxing answers to queries), and the name of the help desk staff member. Forms with original answers to problems and queries are filed, and the remainder are discarded. Excel was used to analyze in detail telephone query data from January 1996 through June The data presented here do not include 1,335 straightforward requests for information packs also received during this time. Also excluded is the time spent on experimental work with communications packages or contact with computer software or hardware suppliers resulting from a small number of specific inquiries. Figures 1 and 2 indicate the types of telephone queries received and the amount of time taken to respond to these queries. Resetting users' passwords is clearly the major help desk activity in terms of both numbers of calls and time spent responding. The MEDLINE service is available only to individual members of the BMA. For security reasons, members are required to select their own passwords (minimum five characters) and are prompted by the system to change them every ninety days. When a password has been lost or forgotten, or the member has misunderstood the prompt requesting that the password be changed, help desk staff must log on to the server as system administrator, call up the user's information, and either type in a new password or cancel the current password so that the user may do so. Log-on instructions, with full details of the procedure for regularly changing passwords, are now provided on a single sheet of colored paper in the information pack sent to all new MEDLINE users. Another important service of the help desk is providing guidance in setting up communications software and in downloading search results. The data highlight the difficulties experienced by busy clinicians in keeping track of system log-on procedures and, for many who have little technical experience, in setting up communications software to access online services and in initiating download procedures. Figure 3 indicates the average time taken to respond to particular types of help desk queries. Queries that are answered most easily concern key problems (usually corrected by turning off the number lock or scroll lock button on the user's keyboard), BMA computer problems (usually corrected by rebooting one of the host system modems), and the need to reset a user's passwords or check a log-on name. Queries that take the longest to answer concern the removal of a user from the system (an infrequent request) and problems with modems, downloading, and software settings. In such cases, software or hardware troubleshooting, step-by-step guidance in the downloading of search results, or the alteration of communications software settings may be required. It is sometimes necessary to call the user back with a response after consultation Bull Med Libr Assoc 85(3) July Rowlands et al. Figure 1 MEDLINE help desk: types of telephone queries (January-June 1996) Search query Bibliographic software query Connection problems Downloading problems Miscellaneous Check login name Purchasing advice (hardware/software) BMA computer problems JANET/Intemet access Cursor key problems Modem specific problems Software specific problems Re-set password New user- immediate set-up Removal of user from system Guide in setting up communications software Guide through logging in procedure ONumber of Calls Total Number of Calls = 1375 with the library's technical expert or experimentation on the help desk machines. With two front-line staff members, the help desk is now in a far better position than before to respond to queries requiring extensive response time. Table 4 indicates the number of calls and the amount of response time related to each type of query at different points throughout the day. The busiest time of day is late afternoon, after 3:00 P.M., when U.K. family and hospital physicians are likely to have time to request help because they have completed surgeries, home visits, and ward rounds. There is also a concentration of activity before 11:00 A.M., when messages left on the help desk answering machine the previous evening are read and answered. The lower number of calls in the middle of the day reflects reduced help Figure 2 MEDLINE help desk: time taken per type of telephone query (January-June 1996) Search query Bibliographic software query Connection problems Downloading problems Miscellaneous Check login name Purchasing advice (hardware/software) BMA computer problems JANET/Intemet access Cursor key problems Modem specific problems Software specific problems Re-set password New user - immediate set-up Removal of user from system Guide in setting up communications software Guide through logging in procedure *Hours Total Number of Hours = Bull Med Libr Assoc 85(3) July 1997 User support Figure 3 MEDLINE help desk: average time taken per type of query (January-June 1996) Search query Bibliographic software query Connection problems Downloading problems Miscellaneous Check login name Purchasing advice (hardware/software) BMA computer problems JANET/Internet access Cursor key problems Modem specific problems Software specific problems Re-set password New user - immediate set-up Removal of user from system Guide in setting up communications software Guide through logging in procedure EMinutes desk staffing for lunch breaks. Queries regarding access via JANET and the Internet are an exception to the general pattern. These are received more often in the early morning (before 11:00 A.M.), a preferred time for Internet use because performance is faster before U.S. users come online. These results clearly have implications for help desk staffing. The help desk telephone numbers are provided throughout the MEDLINE information pack, promoted regularly in the national medical press, and shown on the first information screen as users access the system. ONLINE HELP The OVID MEDLINE search interface offers a wide range of online help features. These are discussed in detail by Schoonbaert [8]. In particular, the system offers mapping of the users' own words or phrases to the standard Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) used to index the database. Users are also guided in their choice of additional indexing features, such as explode, major focus, and subheadings. The underlying MeSH tree structure and permuted MeSH index may also be Table 1 MEDLINE help desk: number of calls relating to each type of query received throughout the day (January-June 1996) Type of query Before 11:00 A.M. 11:00 A.M.-1:00 P.M. 1:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M. After 3:00 P.M. Total Search query Bibliographic software query Connection problems Downloading problems Miscellaneous Check log-in name Purchasing advice (hardware/software) BMA computer problems JANET/Internet access Cursor key problems Modem-specific problems Software-specific problems Reset password New user-immediate set-up Removal of user from system 1 1 Guide in setting up communications software Guide through logging in procedure Total ,375 Bull Med Libr Assoc 85(3) July Rowlands et al. viewed and searched with the OVID interface. The OVID MEDLINE system also offers an online tutorial guide. MEDLINE COURSES Training for end-user searching of MEDLINE has been well documented. Glitz [9], for example, describes how the library community has taken an active role in training end users to search MEDLINE and other biomedical databases. A typical end-user training class, she suggests, must deal with the problem of dividing a search into component parts and translating those components into appropriate headings or text words by using Boolean operators and MeSH terms. Training can be reinforced by hands-on experience. Other important factors listed by Glitz include the characteristics of class participants (e.g., their previous computer experience), promotion of training, arrangements for necessary training facilities, fees, and provision of continuing education credit. These considerations had a major influence on the design of the BMA Library's one-day beginner and advanced MEDLINE courses. The objectives of the beginner course are (1) to explain how to connect to the library's MEDLINE service (e.g., necessary hardware and software, setting up communications software), and (2) to introduce participants to the system, the scope and structure of the MEDLINE database, and basic search techniques. The objectives of the advanced course are (1) to highlight the advanced search capabilities of the library's OVID MEDLINE system, and (2) to show how professional search techniques and the indexing structure built into the MEDLINE database can be used to execute even more comprehensive and more relevant searches. Both courses are approved by the Postgraduate Education Authority and count toward continuing medical education credit. Course fees are 75 ($110) for BMA members. The courses take place at BMA House in London. All sessions follow a similar pattern, beginning with a presentation o
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