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Behind the Curtain: The Library Technology Group Help Desk

May 14, 2020

While the coronavirus didn’t directly impact electronics, it created a new chaos for professionals managing the technology needs of their companies. We may rarely think about who is “behind the curtain” of our workstations – until something goes awry. The quiet, continuous work required to keep systems running is a sophisticated and delicate process.

The emergence of COVID-19 and the rapid move to remote work created unique complications, including among the Libraries at UW-Madison. But the Library Technology Group (LTG) Help Desk didn’t flinch – instead, they leaned in, taking its best day-to-day practices and making adjustments to meet new challenges.

The decision to close the physical spaces on the UW-Madison campus came swiftly. Many library employees who didn’t have laptops were given ones by the Help Desk, along with instructions to begin remote work. It was that simple – on the user end.

Meanwhile, behind the curtain, the Help Desk had prepared its department to work from home, as well as the entire library unit. In the days leading to the campus closure, the team configured and distributed its entire laptop inventory (plus ordered more) – allowing 65 additional staff members work-from-home flexibility.

They also streamlined already thorough step-by-step instructions for the things staff must suddenly know how to do without a member of the Help Desk physically accessible – such as connecting to shared drives, accessing phone messages off-site, and following best practices for videoconferencing.

Collaborating with DoIT, laptops were provided for long-term checkout for students, staff, and faculty. The Libraries addressed the demand for physical books by scanning requested portions to send electronically. LTG worked with library units such as ILL to relocate scanners to a single location to accomplish this work.

“We are working as a team with campus to support students who don’t have sufficient technology for SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration),” said Jay Ray, Technology Operations Manager at the Libraries. “We were also recently asked to provide access to equipment resources for faculty to capture lectures for online distribution. The Libraries continue to be a place that members of a campus feel they can come for support, advice, and access.”

The team also collaborates to develop best practices for workflows and instructions for quarantining and disinfecting the approximately 760 pieces of equipment that will eventually return to the libraries. At the same time, they are developing several contingency plans, and are preparing for the summer and fall sessions under uncertain circumstances. What would the Help Desk like the community to know about their behind-the-scenes efforts?

“We are still here!” exclaims Jay. “Even though we are not in Memorial 312F, we are still helping staff and students, taking calls and emails, and fixing issues as they come up. Everyone needs to continue to feel empowered to reach out to us if they have a need.”

Indeed, they are. the Help Desk has fielded over 800 calls since the end of March.

We all know about Toto pulling back the curtain to reveal Professor Marvel furiously working the levers to create the Great and Powerful Oz. It is an a-hah moment when the viewer realizes someone is working behind the scenes to make things happen. This is true at the Libraries, too. While the technology has undoubtedly advanced, the real people behind the curtain are more necessary than ever, much like the big-hearted and wise displaced gentleman from Kansas.