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IM Reference: It’s What’s for Dinner. Sarah Houghton-Jan Information and Web Services Manager, San Mateo County Library Librarian in Black: How many people have used IM before? How many people have used IM for staff communication? For reference?.

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Im reference it s what s for dinner

IM Reference:It’s What’s for Dinner

Sarah Houghton-Jan

Information and Web Services Manager, San Mateo County Library

Librarian in Black:

What is instant messaging
What is instant messaging?

  • Instantaneous, simultaneous text chat

  • Add-ons like video, audio, file sharing


Type here

Im client software the holy trinity
IM client software: the holy trinity

They’re all free—to you and users

  • Other Software

  • ICQ

  • IRC

  • Jabber

  • Google Talk

  • MySpace

Im aggregator software
IM aggregator software

  • Trillian:

  • Gaim:

    Both let you monitor multiple IM accounts (AOL, MSN, Yahoo!) through one interface.

    Oh yeah…they’re both free!

Web based im with meebo
Web-based IM with Meebo

  • Completely web-based—no installations

  • Sign in with multiple accounts at once

  • Even if IM is blocked, this still works

  • MeeboMe Widget allows IMing right on a webpage

    —no software or accounts required!

Let s try it
Let’s Try It

  • When she’s on her own computer, Sarah uses Trillian to chat w/ friends/colleagues.

  • When she’s on a public computer, she uses Meebo.

  • Sarah also likes to refer to herself in the third person. 

Principles of virtual reference
Principles of Virtual Reference

  • We want to serve all users equally:

    in-house and remote

  • We want to attract and serve new users

  • There is a user expectation of real-time online service from everyone, retail and community

  • We want to be where our users are: online (in whatever form that may take)

Why use im for reference
Why use IM for reference?

  • Traditional web-based chat has technical and service problems

    • Slowness

    • Stiff computer requirements, disconnects

    • User privacy issues

    • Non-local librarians

    • Cost

      For many users, not having IM is like not having a phone.

Your users are here already
Your users are here already

  • 75% of online teens IM*

  • 42% of online adults IM*

  • 50% of IMing teens (32% of all teens) IM every single day*

  • Undergrad students, techies, kids and teens, stay-at-home parents, people using IM at work

    * Pew Internet and American Life Project. Teens and Technology. 07/27/2005.

Im benefits
IM Benefits

  • Easy to use for both the librarian and the user

  • You’re right there on the user’s buddy list

  • Features

    • Document sharing

    • Sending URLs, images, voice (w/ add-ons like Skype)

  • Speed…don’t get me started on the speed

  • Less demands on patron & librarian computers

  • Disconnects just don’t happen

  • Did I mention that everything is free?

Concerns to address
Concerns to address

  • If user not already IMing, needs to download a small program

  • Library needs to actively secure user information (not keeping transcripts, buddy lists)

  • Commercial chat terms of service may include privacy concerns…warn users

  • No co-browsing…yet

  • No 24/7 availability…yet

Working with it staff
Working with IT Staff

  • Be enthusiastic

  • Is IM banned or blocked? Why?

  • The boogeyman of network security? Or “it’s a time-waster”?

  • E-mail and web browsing cause many more security problems than IM.

Im etiquette
IM etiquette

  • Be brief

  • Use frequent shorter messages

  • Capitalization and punctuation are optional

  • Bad spelling happens

  • Use smiley faces (emoticons) responsibly

  • Don’t type in ALL CAPS PLEASE!!!!!!!


  • OMG, I was AFK and my SO gave me an EG! LOL! Oops, BRB!

  • Oh my god, I was away from the keyboard and my significant other gave me an evil grin! Laugh out loud! Oops, be right back!

  • Familiarize yourself with some basics:

Who s using im for reference
Who’s using IM for reference?

  • Library Success Wiki list:

  • 92 libraries in September, up from 79 in May, 43 last November

  • Public, academic, school, special

  • Contact us—we’re happy to help!

Things to address before implementation
Things to Address Before Implementation

  • Demonstrate IM to all staff and explain why you’re doing this

  • Basic training materials on how to use the software’s features

  • Have staff practice with each other

  • Scripts for inappropriate users, suicidal users, questions out-of-scope, etc.

  • Pick a user icon (logo?)

Things to address before implementation1
Things to Address Before Implementation

  • Advertising: flyers, business cards, table tents, schools, outreach events

  • Blocking abusive users

  • Standard away message

  • Determine a scope—what questions will you answer?

  • Do you want stats? Keeping transcripts?

  • Do you want to schedule your IM, or just be on whenever you can?

Again why should we im
Again…why should we IM

  • Get our knowledge, helpfulness, and information expertise out there where the users are

  • Reach a hard to reach (for libraries) segment of the population: teens, twentysomethings, and tech-savvy independent folks

  • Make us findable in the online environment


Contact Sarah any time

E-mail: [email protected]

IM: LibrarianInBlack (AOL, Yahoo!, MSN)