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Instant Messaging Up and Running

Today an instant messaging reference system was born at Edgewood College. What I had been planning and working on for about three months finally came to fruition and I am really eager to see how it turns out. We are not doing any advertising yet for the new service. That will come in a month or so, after the staff has become familiar with answering questions and we get some feedback about actual policies.

I directed a staff training session today to familiarize everyone with IM-ing, buddy lists, and away messages. I had everyone sign up for Meebo accounts, add each other to their buddy lists, and then start chatting with one another. It worked well because people could joke about IM lingo and emoticons, but they also asked a number of good questions. By having them jump right into an IM setting and trying it out with each other they actually learned much more quickly than if I was simply up there lecturing. They quickly got the hang of buddies and how to send and receive messages. I recommend this form of training for anyone who is teaching others to IM. It gets results.

At the actual reference desk we will be using the IM client Pidgin because it has better alerts and is more customizable than the web-based Meebo.  So, I also plan on sending them some practice reference questions before the semester starts so they can become used to the Pidgin client. But they have the basics of IM down which was what I was trying to accomplish.

The training was not as easy to develop until I met with my “Library Instruction” practicum adviser earlier in the week.  Among other things, we eventually discussed “learning outcomes” which I had never heard of before. They are basically what you want your learners to be able to accomplish once they leave the classroom. This then made it much easier to design my training session. I simply took what I wanted the library staff to be able to do and then built my course around those goals. It sounds obvious but I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

After the training session our web librarian posted our Ask A Librarian page that we had worked on (mostly him) and our IM service was finally up and running. The web librarian and I posted our new status on the liswiki and the libsuccess wiki to include our names among the other distinguished virtual reference libraries. I am excited to see what kind of response we get. I will continue posting on how it works out.

Andy Burkhardt

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