Topeka Has IM

IM in Topeka!My library has just started two things, really:

  1. IM reference! (Yippie!)
  2. Using the Meebo Me widget

We have wanted to begin IM reference for over a year at least. One of the cool things about being the Digital Branch Manager at this library is that the library as a whole is excited about new ways to reach out to customers, and doesn’t shy away from all this new-fangled technology stuff (translation=everything I do).

Our Adult Services Department actually came to me and asked if they could start IM – they even had a plan in place to use the Meebo Me widget, so they could get everything up-and-running quickly (we’re also in the process of installing Trillian on all staff computers). Basically, all I had to do was say “go for it.”

So far, the Meebo Me widget is working out well. The things we’re working through are more procedural issues, like what to do when reference staff receive a phone call and an IM question at the same time (ie., do we go into away mode or just quickly type “hold”?).

So – this should be just the tip of our Digital Branch iceberg!

Kansas Tri-Conference: Day 1 – IM (Instant Messaging): 101

Kristin Whitehair (K-State)

Gave history of IM

Gave a couple of examples of IM reference questions at K State

IM in Libraries

  • our users are using it
  • 42% of all online users use IM – Pew
  • 90% of teens using IM (AOL IM Trends)
  • all age groups are using IM

IM is:

  • immediate
  • real time 
  • point of need (answer question when customer needs the answer)
  • interactive

Virtual Reference vs IM – Advantages over VR:

  • easy – few requirements
  • free
  • widely used outside the library world
  • lite programs
  • cell phone and video features

Sacrificed Features for IM:

  • co-browsing
  • page pushing
  • statistics gathering

Discussed K-State IM reference statistics

Types of IM available:

  • client (downloaded)
  • web-based – chat widgets embedded on webpages
  • internal – staff IM

Gave example of Reference librarian who embedded Meebo widget onto her subject guide page and her own staff “who am I ” page

Internal IM: mentioned enterprise IM like GroupWise, opportunity for practice without contacting patrons

Popular IM Services:

  • Yahoo Messenger
  • Google Talk
  • MSN Messenger
  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)


  • GAIM (recently renamed Pidgin)
  • Trillian
  • Meebo


  • staffing – how will you handle it
  • security – files, sketchy links, individuals with questionable intent…
  • dependability of service

staff training:

  • etiquette and training
  • traditionally casual and short messages
  • appropriate use
  • selecting a name
  • lingo

Mobile Instant Messaging and ebuddy

mobile ebuddyI just finished playing around with ebuddy, at It’s a web-based IM service, like meebo. But the thing I was interested in is this – they offer a mobile version of their ebuddy service!

I haven’t wanted to actually PAY for IM on my treo, which I could do through services like VeriChat or Mundu Messenger (here’s great article about Treo-based IM clients). I’m cheap – what can I say? And honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t more free offerings on such a basic mobile-based service (that would also send periodic ads for sustainability…).

Anyways, the mobile version of ebuddy works ok. The screenshot to the right shows me chatting with the infamous LibrarianInBlack. The chat functions are pretty easy to figure out… but I quickly noticed one huge drawback: I had to hit the reload link to see the conversation! I could type my message easily enough and hit the Sned button… but then nothing would happen after that. But when I hit the Reload link, then I’d see that the good LIB had been chatting back…

So. It’s free! It’s web-based! It doesn’t automatically screen refresh!

Actual Reference (not virtual)

Aaron Schmidt at walking paper posted about IM yesterday, and made some points that actually relate, in a way, to what I was saying yesterday about the website as a destination.

Aaron’s post focused on IM reference – how IM reference is still very much a reference question, just like someone walking up to the desk, and how one might handle that in a day-to-day situation. His library has a first-come-first-served policy, so if he’s in the middle of an IM reference question, the person walking up to the desk has to wait his/her turn in line. And this gives Aaron an opportunity to introduce the waiting customer to IM reference, too.

That type of policy is another way to shift the focus from a computer-oriented task (answering an IM question) to simply another way of serving your library customers. Put another way, it removes the word “virtual” from virtual reference. Think about it – there’s nothing “virtual” about virtual reference. It’s an ACTUAL reference transaction, just like when someone walks up to the reference desk to ask a question is an actual reference transaction. With both, an actual customer is waiting in line, ready to be served.