All about… The Library Helpdesk

It’s not just a bunch of librarians stamping books and pointing you to the referencing section! See what other tricks they’ve got hidden up those (cardigan) sleeves.


Academic libraries. They’re just a place that students can go to for a quiet place to study and borrow books from… right? Well, the world of university libraries (and The Open University Library in particular) is actually so much more than that. 

There are twelve core teams within the OU Library, whose services range from helping students with access to a broad range of e-resources, managing the intellectual property portfolio for the University, and designing skills materials to feed into the curriculum, to archiving the OU’s historical materials and unique research collections. 

Our first blog post in our ‘All About… The Library’ series will focus on the friendly and ever-helpful OU Library Helpdesk. 

The Helpdesk is designed to be a beacon of support and assistance for students, staff, researchers, alumni, and the general public, as well as visitors from other universities. 

Whether you are a lark or a night owl, the Helpdesk is available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It receives an average of 2,400 information resource-related enquiries – coming in via web chat, email, phone and in person – every single month! That’s a lot of talk time. 

Ann, Jenny and Jess, three members of the Helpdesk team, have shared some of their experiences in this article. 

What kind of queries do we deal with?

The range of topics dealt with by the helpdesk team is huge – they help with referencing queries, they track down specific resources, and help resolve issues with accessing and using those resources. And often, these topics are rather niche! 

“I once spent quite a bit of time helping a student track down details on an obscure German aristocrat!” says Jenny. 

It’s very common for students to feel a bit embarrassed that they don’t know how to do something. To those students, Jess would say, “no question is ever too silly! The Helpdesk is a bit like the peer you would sit next to in a lecture theatre. If you want to lean over and whisper, ‘what on earth is this referencing malarky all about?’, or ‘I’ve spent hours looking for this source and I’m at my wit’s end!’, well, we’re here for those kinds of questions. We’ve got you.” 

Ann reiterates the point that no question is ever a stupid question, and sometimes, it’s something that even the experts need some time to figure out. “Reassuring the student that no they are not stupid, that the ‘experts’ hate that site and struggle with it, that we can’t find the information either, we either find the information another way, or work through it with the student.” 

What is life like for the Helpdesk Team?

While every member of the helpdesk team helps with all sorts of queries, they all have one area that they really enjoy. 

We understand that studying through distance learning can be tough for students as they don’t necessarily have the same interactions with their peers as face-to-face students might and they’re often juggling many demands on their time.” says Jess. “When they reach out to us on the Helpdesk, I love being able to reassure students that they’re not alone with these challenges and we are always here to help. Sometimes a bit of encouragement and a listening ear can go a long way.” 

Ann loves being able to give students the confidence to continue with their studies. “Knowing that the student has ‘got it’, they now know how to find the information, finishing the chat knowing that that student will not have to contact us again about that question, and will probably disseminate the procedure to their friends, that I have taught a useful skill.” 

Nothing makes the team happier than when they receive positive feedback from individuals that have used the Helpdesk. Here are just a handful of comments that they’ve received over the past year: 

“Am just amazed and so grateful. Have never used this service before…so patient and so quick with resources and help” 

“Outstanding. The librarian gave me some excellent research leads that I had not been able to uncover myself.” 

“It’s the first time that I have used this service, and everyone was so helpful in finding the links that I needed for a study request.” 

“[The librarian] was very helpful in guiding me through the process to find an online journal which I would never have reached without Library Chat assistance” 

“Invaluable information given to a new starter to research. Thank you all for your help.” 

What’s next for The Library Helpdesk?

Whilst the team are over the moon to receive such wonderful feedback, they’re always looking for ways that they can improve or add to the service they provide. 

During Student Voice Week 2021, the Library hosted a discussion session to explore students’ experiences of using the Helpdesk and identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with those that had used the helpdesk expressing being very happy with the service, and those that hadn’t said they were very aware of how to access it and of what help it could provide. To allow students to access the service more readily, they expressed a desire to have a link to the Library Helpdesk featured within their module pages and more prominently on StudentHome. Participants appreciated the variety and found the communication methods accessible but suggested that having the option to video chat would be helpful so that they can share their screen. Based on this feedback, the team are now looking into how they could incorporate these changes. 

The main aim of the helpdesk, in short, is to help you to find what you are after – whether that’s finding a specific resource for your assignment, some background reading to expand your knowledge, or helping you find a way to access the information if you are having difficulties. We believe that this should always be as easy as possible for you – and our goal is to help you gain confidence in your abilities as you progress through your studies. After all, everyone was a beginner once! 


The Library Services website is your gateway to a wide range of online information resources. You can use it to find out more about the Library, search our extensive online collection of Library resources (including eBooks, journals, databases and more), and explore our programme of live online training sessions that are available to all OU students and staff. Or indeed, come and speak with us at the Helpdesk: we look forward to it. 


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