Inspirational IM Success Stories

Sarah at Librarian in Black and Michael at Tame The Web have both posted some updates on their libraries’ Instant Messaging reference programs. Both services seem to be returning excellent numbers and are excellent examples of reaching out to the patrons. Both libraries are supporting the big three clients (AIM, Yahoo! IM, and MSN Messenger), which means that there really should be no one left out. Michael is even supporting Apple’s client, iChat.

Their numbers and success are encouraging (or perhaps overwhelming) to folks who may be thinking about starting a similar service. Our library is fortunate to be a member of OhioLINK, which offers a web-based chat service. We are able to staff a seat for our institution during most hours of operation. As mentioned in a previous post, I have made my Yahoo! and AIM screen names available to students at our university in addition to this service. They can find my screen names on my Business Blog, as well as under my library contact information. My hopes are that if they would like to contact me directly, this would be a great way to do so. CurrentlyI have no set hours of opearation as I can’t afford to dedicate a block of time just yet. However, I am available at all times while I am at my desk, so provided I am not in a meeting, teaching a class, or at the ref desk, I’ll be able to answer a question. Currently I am only supporting AIM and Yahoo! but that may change after I get the results of a survey I am doing.

During the first week of this quarter, I had the opportunity to market this idea to 80 business students during an overview of library resources. The last thing I show the students in every class is the business blog and my contact information, and I empasized the IM service in the last few classes that I have taught. During the second week of the quarter, I had six IM interactions in seven days. Not bad, but since then, all has been quiet. I have another round of classes to teach during the month of February, so perhaps this will stir up some more business. I guess we’ll wait and see.

Blogging and Internal Communications

Steven Cohen and Meredith Farkas have recently posted about using blogs for internal communications. At my library, we use a blog to disseminate library news, and I have a blog that I use to complement my library instruction, reference, and liaison activities. Both blogs are primarily used to communicate information to the library’s public users.

We also have a blog that our reference department uses for internal communication. Like many libraries, we used to have tough assignments, access issues, community information, etc., crammed into this big white binder on the desk. The binder was on this nice book pedestal that even rotated when needed. It was organized by subject and had colorful tabs to keep things organized. It was quite a masterpiece. Unfortunately, no one ever really looked at it, and it was very difficult to find needed information quickly. Also, due to our innate desire as librarians to save and catalog everything, much of the information in the book was outdated and obsolete. This in turn, increased the difficulty of finding information.

Last summer I created a blog for our reference department to experiment with a different mechanism to communicate departmental information. The primary purpose in setting up the blog was to replace the big white binder. We also wanted a mechanism that could be organized by date and by category or subject, and could be searchable as well. For this purposes, a blog seemed like the perfect thing to try.

After creating the blog, we had two reference librarians weed the white binder. After weeding, they transferred the most up-to-date, relevant information in the binder to the Reference Blog. All the old, obsolete stuff was discarded. All information that was put in the blog was assigned a category based upon the scope of the information. Categories for our Reference Blog include: Access Issues, Assignments, Campus Info, Community Info, Databases, General, Library Info, Print Resources, Stumpers, and Technology. The blog is primarily used as a mechanism for reporting database access problems, hints for tough assignments, and changes in library equipment, policies, or procedures. We also include hints on dealing with some of the technology that we have in our reference area. Currently we have about 15 people who are contributing to the blog.

Reference staff and student assistants are able to receive notifications of blog updates via RSS and email. Unfortunately, I have yet to get many of my colleagues hooked on RSS, but I am working on it. Most staff currently subscribe to our blog via email, as we have implemented an email notification plug-in for WordPress. The way the plug-in works is that an email is sent to all subscribers as soon as a story is published. Unfortunately, the email is often sent before the author has had a chance to proofread his or her post. This can result in some fairly interesting emails.

Today one of my colleagues just added to 169th post to the Reference Blog. One of the obvious issues that we will have to face is when and how to weed the blog. Because we use the blog as a knowledgebase, having too many out-of-date posts may interfere with the future efficiency of the blog. We currently weed on an ongoing, case-by-case basis. As soon as a post is out of date or an issue is resolved, someone usually updates or deletes the post. However, I imagine that a time will come when we will have to establish more stringent weeding criteria.

Overall, the Reference Blog has been a huge success. Searchable, organized information can be found easily in our blog. Reference staff are freely contributing to the blog, so it truly is a resource of collective knowledge. Our student assistants receive the email notifications, and their being in the loop helps them to serve our patrons better. Our blog serves as a knowledgebase for our department and is used as such. Countless times I have heard a colleague say, “Oh, yeah, I remember reading about that in the blog.” The colleague can quickly find the information and answer the question quickly. Or others often say, “I really think this should be in the blog.” Five minutes later, there is a post about that particular issue. Being able to create, disseminate, and find information quickly is a beautiful thing.

First IM Reference Interaction

Today I had my first reference interaction using AOL IM. My library has been doing chat reference for quite some time, and we are available for about ten hours on most weekdays. Our business is good, and we are able to help quite a few students with library research. We have about twelve people who staff our chat queue. Personally, I am only on chat once or twice a day and these times are irregular. As a result, this makes it difficult for would-be chatters to contact me directly.

Last summer I created both Yahoo! IM and AIM accounts and posted them on my library contact information page. By doing this, I wanted to enable business students to be able to contact me directly. In each class I showed students my contact information, and talked about being available through IM. Day after day I would start up my IM client, only to shut it down eight hours later. It was all quiet on the chat front —–until now.

The question was fairly basic. The patron wanted to know the update frequency of the Value Line Investment Survey. I answered him, and also referred him to another similar resource. Again, pretty basic, but very effective act extending my reach and going where the users are. Will there be more? Only time will tell.