Yes, IM is still a great way for patrons to reach you

I work every Monday night. The business students all know that I work every Monday night, as my hours are posted on my Contact Page, and I tell them in every class I teach when I work. So here is what one Monday night looked like a few weeks ago, between 6:00 and 7:30.

Busy Night on IM

Yep, that’s a lot of IMs. My fingers were going crazy. I was in my office monitoring our general IM/chat reference service, but I also had my own IM open as well. You know what’s funny?   Nearly all of those students were in our group study rooms about 150 feet from my office. They could have just come to my office to ask a question, and actually a few other students did. But these students chose to contact me in a way that worked for them.   Wonder what would happen if I didn’t make myself available via IM?   I would bet that most of those questions would have gone unanswered, and I would have lost a valuable customer.   How are you making yourself available to your patrons?

So maybe this is why no one uses our Skype Reference Service

In his latest column in Time Magazine, Joel Stein writes why people don’t like video phones.

Even though Skype is the only one of all the cool gadgets that cartoons promised me would exist by 2010, people don’t seem nearly as excited as they should be. Only 34% of Skype calls even use video. And when Skype announced on Jan. 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show that we’ll soon have videophones on our televisions, everyone went right back to talking about which booths gave out the best key-chain lights.


OHIO Libraries Skype Reference
OHIO Libraries Skype Reference

We’ve been using Skype as a reference option for quite some time. At one point in time, people in library land were really hot about what we were doing with the service.  It had great potential, was free, and was easy enough for anyone to set up.  Despite the growth of Skype and its popularity on some television shows (Oprah and Who Wants to be a Millionaire) I can count on one hand the number of Skype calls we get each month.  The questions that we do get are almost always text/IM questions, which is something that can be handled by Meebo widgets and other popular IM services.  We almost never got questions with our Skype Kiosk, even after trying several different staffing models and user interfaces.  This past fall, we pulled the plug on our Skype Reference Kiosk, although we still offer Skype as an option for our general Ask-a-Librarian service. (Update 12/8/2011:  We no longer have Skype listed as a contact option on our website due to extremely low use).

In his article, Joel says that he likes to zone out or multitask when talking on the phone.  When you’re on the phone with someone, you can check your email, flip the TV channels, start up a video game, do the dishes, all while “listening” to what the other person has to say.  With video calling applications, you have to actually look at the person talking to you and actually pay attention.  This could be one reason why our Skype video reference service has not been popular.  It’s been my experience while helping students with IM questions is that they often take a while to respond after you have sent them a message or an answer.  It’s not that they are pondering what I have sent them with such deep thought that they are taking a long time to respond.  Generally they may be checking out the page that I sent them, while chatting with me, while answering a text, listening to music, checking out pictures on Facebook, IMing their non-librarian friends, and typing a paper.  Imagine dropping all of that fun stuff just to talk to a librarian face-to-face via video calling.  If our patrons wanted to call us with Skype video, they would have to change their communication styles.  In other words, they would have to be, like, attentive, or like, something, and like, do only one thing at once.  😉  Stein argues “as far as the full-contact listening that Skype requires, I don’t think we want that all that often from people who aren’t already in our house.”

Stein also mentions that people have shifted away from using the phone to even talk to each other.  “People are not only uninterested in Skype, we’re also not interested in talking on the regular phone. We want to TiVo our lives, avoiding real time by texting or e-mailing people when we feel like it.”  In other words, you text or email people because you don’t necessarily have to talk to a person right away, nor do you expect an answer right away.  Likewise, texting and  emailing puts you in control of when you respond, allowing you to shift the time of the conversation, to “talk” when you want.

I see people using Skype on a daily basis in our Learning Commons.  They’re usually, though not always, international students checking in with the folks back home.  They use the built-in camera on their laptops and headphone/mics to talk to friends an relatives. It’s a great way to check in with people, to let them know how you are doing, and to let them see you in person.  It’s the perfect way for your mom to tell you that “it looks like you’re not eating enough or getting enough sleep” without actually being in the same room.  It’s also a great way to check out your sister’s new haircut or to connect with a BFF at another school.  However, as much as we try, librarians are not going to be BFFs with our patrons, and maybe they don’t really want to see us when they talk to us.  I thought for a long time that maybe our service was ahead of the bleeding edge and that our patrons would eventually catch up as they adopted new technologies.  But even as much as Oprah, Ellen, or Meredith use the Skype video service and  promote it, and as much as Skype grows in popularity, our patrons may never be comfortable enough to want to call us face-to-face.

In many circles, our experiment with Skype video reference might be considered a failure.  At my library, we tend to try something while studying it, rather than study it for ages before attempting something new.  While we didn’t get the results we expected with our video kiosk experiment, setting up the service cost us almost nothing.  In the process, we learned about video calling software options, how to configure pages to close automatically with javascript,  discovered how flaky wireless connections and computer applications can be, and much more.  We also learned to be flexible, patient, and try different things to improve the service.   I’m sure others have learned through our experience as well, as my former colleague Char Booth has shared our Skype reference story through numerous presentations and publications.  I believe our experiences with the service have prepared us well for our next technology/reference endeavor (whatever that may be), and you can’t put a price on that knowledge.  Did the service fail?  It all depends on how you measure your return on investment.

The chocolate and peanut butter are mixed again: Using Trillian Astra with Meebo Widgets

A while back I wrote about how Meebo and Pidgin are like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In that blog post I described how to use a plugin for Pidgin that would allow you to connect to your Meebo widgets through the Pidgin IM client. Well, for some reason, this stopped working for me quite some time ago. My Meebo widget wouldn’t display my online status, so folks received a message on all my web pages that I was not online, when in fact I was. I abandoned the Meebo/Pidgin method and used Digsby for about a year. Digsby is a client that has native widgets built in, and for the most part, it works pretty nice. However, Digsby had a habit of reducing my PC’s speed to a crawl, so I’ve always been on the lookout for another method. I recently got Pidgin to work again(sort of) with Meebo, but I encountered frequent crashes when someone would just land on my widget page.   I’ve had crashes with the Pidgin/Meebo setup before, and it’s quite annoying.   I have to have a dependable IM client to do my job, and the Pidgin/Meebo setup just wasn’t working out for me.   Enter Trillian Astra.

Trillian Astra is Cerulean Studios newest version of the popular multi-protocol IM client. I downloaded Astra about an month ago and set about to see if I could connect to the Meebo widget through Trillian Astra.   Once I figured out how to get it working (no plugins needed), Meebo connected wonderfully to the desktop client.   I’ve been using it ever since, and it’s worked great.   The magic of chocolate mixed with peanut butter is back, and boy is it good. If you’d like to set this up   and taste it for yourself, here is how I did it.

1.   First go and download Trillian Astra and follow the instructions for installation.   Trillia Astra requires you to set up a profile with them, as your information is stored on their server (much like Meebo or Digsby).   This allows you to install the client on multiple machines, but only have to set up your various screen names once.   This makes the client easy to use on your laptop, PC, and home machine without having to setup your profiles multiple times.

2.   Once you’ve set up a profile after installation, you can add your various Identities and Connections.     First, add a new connection as a Jabber/XMPP protocol, and put in your Meebo login information as “yourloginname”

Enter your Meebo Username and password
Enter your Meebo Username and password

3. Click on the Settings button to make sure your settings are the same as the screenshot below.

Settings for the Meebo connection
Settings for the Meebo connection

4.   Finally, click on the Privacy link on the left side of the preference screen.   This is very important to do, otherwise you get annoying popup messages every time someone hits your widget. Make sure you check the box to allow all incoming requests.

Approve all incoming requests
Approve all incoming requests

5.   Once you complete all those steps, you’re ready to take IMs   as they come in from your Meebo widget.   Here’s what it looks like:

Using Trillian with a Meebo Widget
Using Trillian with a Meebo Widget

In the month that I’ve been using this, I have not had any trouble at all.   Folks may wonder why I don’t just use Meebo for all of my IM needs.   Even though Meebo is a great online service, I still appreciate having a dedicated desktop IM client.   I’m pretty good about updating my status when I’m not available (teaching, in a meeting, at the gym, getting coffee, etc) but occasionally I forget.   If you forget to make yourself unavailable before you leave your desk, then Trillian will automatically set your status to “Away” after a certain period of inactivity.   Meebo doesn’t do this, so if you forget to set your status before going to a two-hour meeting, that’s two hours that patrons or friends may think you’re ignoring their questions.   For the person who is constantly up and down from his/her desk, I believe that Trillian is the best IM option.

I hope you’ve found this guide useful.   If you have any tips or questions, please feel free to leave a comment on this post.   I’m curious to see if this setup works for others and would love to learn about others’ experiences with Trillian and Meebo. I’ve now got a hankering for a Reese’s, so I’m off to find a vending machine.   😉 Good luck and happy IMing!

It’s a small world after all

Last night I got an IM question from a student while staffing our IM reference service.   She was in the stacks, but “was totally overwhelmed” with how many books we had and was very confused about how to actually find a book.   Since four floors separated us, I decided to send her my video on how to find a book in our library.   It’s a rather cheesy video that I made last summer with my Flip video camera.   As is typical, after sending the student the link to the video, I never heard back.

This morning, I taught a library session for a freshman English class.   About 45 minutes into the class, two girls mentioned how they had watched my video last night and found it really useful.   It turns out that the girls were the same patron that I sent the video to last night.   It was a very cool “small world” experience, and I was able to use the experience as a way to promote our Ask A Librarian service to the other students in the class.

I’m glad that the students found our IM transaction to be helpful, and that got me to thinking.   What if I had given them bad service last night?   What impact might that have had on their experience during this morning’s class?   How would it have impacted future library experiences?   What if they told their classmates that they were treated poorly?   We almost never get to meet or see the patrons that we help via IM, chat, or email.   With IM and chat, there is almost never a real name tied to the patron on the other end, so it can be easy to be less personal with the patron.   If you’re having a bad day, it can also be easier to be rude or short to a person who you cannot see, or whose name you do not know.     The girls this morning were extremely engaged, and worked very hard during the session.   They asked a lot of questions, and I think their overall impression of our library is very positive.   I wonder if we assumed we would meet each virtual patron the next day in person, how might that affect our interractions with our virtual patrons?   Likewise, how might our patrons’ perceptions of the library change?   It’s a small world, after all, and it’s only getting smaller.

Harassment via Meebo

Long story short, a small loans outfit in the UK wanted me to post a link to their site on my Business Blog.   “Kelly” was pretty persistent, to the point of being a pain.   Here’s part of the transaction:

(4:37:26 PM) meeboguest598014: if I post a comment, it allows me to put my website, will that save as a link for me? I only need 1
(4:37:28 PM) meeboguest598014: 🙂
(4:37:48 PM) i moderate commments.
(4:37:57 PM) meeboguest598014: will you let me do one
(4:38:01 PM) no
(4:38:08 PM) meeboguest598014: If i comment that your a real nice guy
(4:38:14 PM) it doesnt matter
(4:38:31 PM) meeboguest598014: hmm, 50$ for 1 link
(4:38:44 PM) meeboguest598014: pay you by paypal
(4:38:46 PM) no thanks.
(4:38:56 PM) meeboguest598014: 250$ and thats final
(4:39:06 PM) meeboguest598014: pay you now! for 1 link
(4:39:33 PM) that sounds nice, but it would be unethical for me to do so. we are a not-for-profit institution
(4:39:56 PM) meeboguest598014: well I would be making a donation in kind for your helpful service
(4:40:10 PM) meeboguest598014: please help me in this massive maze of the net
(4:40:29 PM) i said no.
(4:40:37 PM) Kelly: Ok then chad
(4:40:42 PM) best of luck
(4:40:45 PM) Kelly: bye hun
(4:40:55 PM) Kelly: btw – you look cute
(4:41:35 PM) Kelly: now your lost for wordsd, he he

The occasional problem with Meebome widgets

I’ve had a meebo widget running for about a year and a half now, and for the most part, it is an incredibly useful tool.   The widget is wonderful because you can embed it in a variety of places.   Like here, or here, or here, or here.   For virtual reference, the meebo widget is a very effective tool for students and patrons to reach a librarian.   However, you may have the occasional patron who stops by your site and goes nuts for some reason or another.   I suppose the concept of anonymity can be misused and may even be empowering to some. I just got back from my lunch-time workout and found the following:


I apologize if   the language   this person used offends you.   Honestly, it offended and angered me, but writing this post has helped me feel a little better.   I felt that I should share this so that others could see that with advances in technology, you sometimes have to take the good and the bad.   I pray that this person has gotten this out of his system, and now will only spread joy to those around him for the rest of the day.

Pidgin4Lib looks cool

“Pidgin4Lib is a customized version of Pidgin. It includes a plugin for support of collaborative IM services. It allows libraries or departments to offer IM services with one public buddy name handled internally by any number of staff members.”

Wow.  This is something to definitely check out and play with when I have more time.  From the looks of the documentation, it appears to be fairly complicated.  However, it looks to be on the right path to solving some of the issues with IM reference.  There’s a powerpoint about the project here.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell who is working on the project from the wiki.  Anybody out there know?

Problems with Pidgin and Meebo–or–the chocolate has melted a little

Char has posted some problems we’ve been having with using Pidgin and Meebo.  I personally log into all my IM accounts and my Meebome widget with Pidgin, and it works just fine.  I’m able to get all my IM’s and meebome conversations in one single place.  It’s also very nice to change my status in one place, and have that reflected in both the IM and meebome status notifications.  So, for individual use, Pidgin and Meebo are still like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Unfortunately, when I try to log into our departmental accounts with Pidgin, I often find myself in the middle of a rather painful crash loop.  I can only speculate that this is the result of some compatibility issues with Meebo, as Char theorizes as well.  I can only assume that there may be some lag between when a user logs out of and IM sevice or widget in Meebo and when the connection is severed at the server.  I haven’t really had a chance to fully study this, but I assume that Meebo sort of hangs on to the connection just long enough to prevent me from connecting to the account in Pidgin.  Since we rotate IM duties on the hour, this hesitation can cause problems.  However, I wonder if everyone used Pidgin, would we still have this problem? 

The problem here is, I don’t know if this setup is reliable enough to convince our staff to switch to another client.  However, some standardization is needed, as with the addition of our Meebome service, things have gotten a little more complicated.  Some colleagues are still staffing the IM accounts with Trillian, while also logging into Meebo me to access the widget.  Others are simply logging into all accounts and widgets in Trillian.  I’m still not sure of the best approach with this.  While I really like Meebo, there are definitely benefits of a desktop client (more audible notifications for one).  I also hesitate to put all my eggs in one basket with a web-based service.  If all services are staffed through Meebo and it happened to go down, all of our services would be disrupted.  However, if we still staff our services with a desktop client, our IM services would still be up and running.  We’re not talking mission critical services here, but you know those students like to ask their questions and not be inconvenienced. 

If anyone has run into these problems and has a solution, please leave a comment on this post.  Otherwise, Char and I will continue to play with Pidgin and Meebo, and hope that we can get the chocolate and peanut butter mixed just right. 

MeeboMe and Pidgin is like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Update: 9/23/2009

I haven’t used this setup for well over a year, as for some reason it stopped connecting to the Meebo Widget.   However, the newest version of Trillian works great with the Meebo Widget, and I have written a guide that details how to set it up.


Hey, you got your meebome in my Pidgin. Hey, your Pidgin is in my MeeboMe. Hmmmm boy, does that taste good.

So I was in a OhioLINK meeting yesterday, and one of the committee members told me that her colleague, Andrew Whitis, had gotten a meebome widget to work with Pidgin. They use Pidgin instead of Trillian to connect to multiple IM clients. Being able to connect to the meebome widget through my IM client sounded like a dream come true, so I decided to check it out. For libraries who staff IM with Trillian, a Meebome widget with meebo, and skype with skype, logging into to three different things can be quite the ordeal. Even NASA doesn’t have to start as many programs when launching the shuttle. I’ve written before about using multiple clients, so this seems to help get rid of the need to log into meebo. I downloaded and installed this plugin, and thus far it seems to be working great. Here’s what I did.

  1. First, I updated my version of Pidgin (formerly GAIM) to the latest version. You can download the software here.
  2. I then did a quick Google search and found this plugin, and installed it as directed into my Pidgin plugins folder. With a default Windows installation, you will find the Pidgin plugins folder at C:\Program Files\Pidgin\plugins. To install the plugin, simply copy the meebo.dll file that you downloaded into this directory.
  3. Next, I restarted Pidgin and activated the plugin. If you do not restart Pidgin after copying the plugin into the directory, it will likely not show up in the plugin list. You will find the plugins feature under the “Tools” menu in the Pidgin buddylist. Once the plugins window is open, you simply need to check the box to activate the plugin. See image below.
  4. Next, I created an account in Pidgin to connect to the Meebome widget. To add an account in Pidgin, click on the “Accounts” menu in the buddylist and then select “Add Edit.” Per the directons on the plugin page, you will need to enter these settings in your new meebo account in Pidgin: In the Basic tab, make sure you have the following:
    • Protocol: XMPP
    • Domain:
    • Resource: Home

    (Note: The screenshot below is my settings for my own widget. Your Screen name and password will be different.)
    In the Advanced tab, you should have the following:

    • Connect port: 5222
    • Connect server:


After that, you should be good to go. Once a patron hits the widget on your website, the plugin will automatically create a buddy in your buddy list. Here is picture of the buddy list:

Once a patron starts chatting with you, it looks the same as a regular instant messaging session:

Now there are a few things to consider, particularly if your library staffs IM reference like we do. Unlike Trillian, there is not a setting to “connect to this account on startup.” However, Pidgin does remember the accounts that you were connected to when you exited the program. In a library setting where multiple users staff a IM reference service, logging in and logging out at the shift change time can be tricky at times. If the previous librarian is currently talking to a patron at the top of the hour, and you log into all IM accounts, you will boot the previous librarian out of the IM account. To remedy this, you may need to only connect to the accounts where there is no patron at the time. Pidgin does allow you to connect to only the accounts that you enable. In the buddy list, you can enable or disable accounts under the “Accounts” menu. Enabling/Disabling is the same as Connecting/Disconnecting in Trillian. At shift change, the previous librarian should “Disable” an account to log out, rather than simply closing out of the Pidgin application. This will allow the librarian the opportunity to selectively “enable” accounts the next time he/she starts Pidgin. As you can see from the screenshot below, I am able to connect to my personal IM accounts, my person meebome widget, our library reference IM account, and our library reference meebome widget. Before using this plugin, I would have been logged into Trillian for all IM accounts, while also having two different instances of Meebo running to connect to both widgets. This plugin definitely makes things a lot cleaner and easier. Upon logging out of our library IM reference accounts and meebom account, I will free those accounts up for the next person that logs in. However, I will leave my personal accounts checked, so that those accounts will start automatically when I restart the program.

I’m very excited about this plugin, and I think it will make things easier for libraries who are staffing multiple IM accounts and Meebome widgets. I’ll continue to put the plugin and client through its paces, and I believe fall quarter will be a prime time to do so. More to come later.

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