Ten Points About IM in Libraries

Aaron lists Ten Points About IM in Libraries. Aaron’s points are in bold, and my comments follow.

1. Instant Messaging is free (minus staff time)
IM is easy to set up, and is fairly easy to staff. At our library, when we’re not at the reference desk, we’re usuallly at our own desks doing work. We might as well be doing something that could benefit the public, in addition to ordering books, updating subject guides, etc.

2. Millions of our patrons use IM every day.
Take a walk around your library. Even if you do not have the IM clients installed on your public workstations, odds are there are a ton of people using IM. Snoop a little, and you’ll see students/patrons with an IM window (or often several) open while surfing the web, writing a paper, listening to an iPod, and checking email. Set up an IM account, and give them someone at the library to talk to.

3. For some, not being available via IM is like not having a telephone number.
What’s worse, I think, is having an IM screenname and not letting anyone know about it. If you’re going to do IM reference, be aggressive in publicizing the service. Link it prominently on the library’s web site, mention it during in-person/phone reference transactions, and promote it during library instruction sessions.

4. There are three major IM networks (AIM, Y!M, MSN)
About 99% of our IM patrons have contacted us with AIM (a very rough, unscientific estimate). Nevertheless, we are still providing service to Yahoo! and MSN users as well. If you use Trillian (it’s free) it costs you nothing more to connect to all the major IM services. That way, you are less likely to leave someone out.

5. Y!M and MSN will be interoperable at some point.
Personally, I think this is great news. I much prefer Yahoo IM over AIM, and the partnership with MSN will help to increase Yahoo’s market share. However, most on our campus are using AIM, so we won’t be able to ditch AOL for quite some time.

6. Trillian is a multi-network IM client, meebo is a web-based multi-network client. Use them.
Same at #4. If you use Trillian, you can connect to multiple services, allowing you to field IM reference questions from nearly anyone.

7. Having practice sessions in-house is a good way to get staff excited about IM in libraries.
This is an excellent point. When we were gearing up for our IM service, I had my colleagues create their own Yahoo and AIM accounts. Next, each librarian installed Trillian, and we used IM around the office for some time. Everyone became comfortable with using Trillian and our staff got pretty geared-up about using IM in reference.

8. Staff can communicate in-house using IM.
This goes hand-in-hand with #7. If staff use IM to communicate with each other, they will be that much more comfortable communicating with patrons. Once folks start using it, you’ll be surprised how often they use it. One of my colleagues, a self-proclaimed luddite, now uses IM quite a bit to communicate with a colleague two floors above us, and he and I even send files and links over IM. By the way, this particular colleague sits right next to me in the office, so IM doesn’t necessarily have to be a distant communication tool.

9. Libraries can choose to have one IM point of contact, or they can choose to divide it departmentally.
At our library, we have screennames for general reference, and one for Health Science reference. In addition, several of my colleagues have given their personal screennames to students and faculty as another point of contact.

10. IM is user-centered and builds relationships with library users.
While this is difficult to track, it is really cool when you get a question from someone on your Recent Buddies list. Basically this means that the person is a repeat user of the IM service. Nothing says success like repeat customers. And believe me, if you build it, they will come.

Via the LibrarianInBlack

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