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Remote Phone and Comms During the Pandemic – How the Co-op Does it and How Your Library Might Do It

March 25, 2020

While libraries are having to shut their physical doors during the pandemic, they are still offering many services online and need to be reachable by phone and to be able to communicate among library staff in a real-time way. The Co-op, as a primarily work-from-home organization, has developed a number of methods of addressing similar demands which we are sharing information on in the hopes that it is helpful though we are unable to offer support to libraries setting up these services.

Remote Phone Services

If your library needs to answer phone calls from the public while working remotely during this time, VoIP may be a solution which you can put in place reasonably quickly.  The Co-op uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology in order to provide phone service both to and between all staff and our support numbers.

If you are interested in using VoIP the first place to check is with your current telecom service provider. There is some chance that they also offer VoIP services and in an ideal world might be able to port your existing number to be reachable via VoIP (no guarantee this is possible). That would provide the ability for a person using software called a “softphone” (a software implementation of a VoIP phone that can be run on any computer or handheld device) to make and receive calls coming to that number.

Libraries that have “locals”, that is seperate extensions for individuals, would need some form of VoIP-connected “public exchange” software to still do this remotely.   In all likelihood this is overkill in an emergency situation – likely the best and easiest option is to get a single toll-free VoIP number.  You can work with the VOIP provider to configure a softphone client to connect to the number and then have staff members staff the phone at different times via their softphone clients.

If you do decide you’d like to put a VoIP number in place, some vendors and technologies we’ve worked with in the past who could assist would be:

Real-time Text/Staff-to-Staff Communications

In an emergency, staff-to-staff communication is likely best left to instant messaging (IM) or video conferencing solutions which can be adopted with very low effort, things like Skype, Signal, Zoom, Big Blue Button are all ways staff can connect with each other in real time.

In addition to the one-to-one text abilities that IM tools like skype or other IMs provide, the Co-op does use Internet Relay Chat for a shared online real-time (and free) collaboration space. Staff typically connect via a client – there are many open source ones as well as cloud-based services like IRCCloud. IRC is an older technology that, while it still works perfectly well, is increasingly being supplanted by services like Slack and tools like Mattermost which update the tech with things like more easily searchable logs and threading.