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Instant Messaging Proposal and Acceptance

A few days ago I presented the work that Jonathan (the web librarian) and I had done on getting an instant messaging reference service up and running at Edgewood. It went over very well and even some of the more luddite librarians thought that we could do this. There were a lot of questions about implementing it and how it would actually work. This is why I am glad that Jonathan and I did so much planning and research and brainstorming.

I sounded surprisingly knowledgeable up there for one simple reason: I was knowledgeable. Jonathan and I had been working on this for about two months. He asked questions on some listservs and I scoured the web and library blogs for people that had done this before and tried to learn from their experiences. The sources I kept going back to and adapting to my own needs were: a PowerPoint slideshow called “How do you IM?” on the LibrarianInBlack blog, “IM me” by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and the Online Reference Best Practices Wiki. They all were very helpful in getting me started. I find it is very useful to use other people’s knowledge. It saves you a lot of the leg work and allows you appear smart even though you are leeching off of these other people’s wisdom.

I demonstrated what the Pidgin software would look like as well as the Meebo chat window, and then we allayed any concerns and answered all the questions that came up. We helped the staff understand what we were actually going to be doing it and why. But I tried never to say that “this is how it is going to be.” I kept telling the staff that their input was needed . I do not want them to think they are getting this imposed on them. I would like to have them all contribute and share their opinions so it can be an effective service.

The meeting went very well, and I even got applause for my presentation. The next step will be staff training. This will begin after winter break since it is always hectic at the end of the semester. I might have to do a little research on how best to go about training staff and getting them comfortable with IM. This is going to be fun.

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Getting the Word Out

I am finishing up a practicum at Capital Newspapers, publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. For one of my final projects there, I again implemented instant messaging. This time I implemented it into the news library’s intranet: “The Library Files.” I was comfortable enough with it from my experience at Edgewood and thought myself quite clever for using it in a news library setting.

I thought it would be a big hit or at least a mild hit. I know if I was a reporter I would use it to contact the library. It is simple. I wouldn’t have to leave my desk. I wouldn’t have to stop what I was doing. It would be quicker than an e-mail. It would be great!

Unfortunately it hasn’t really caught on. It has been used a couple of times right away but now it is languishing. It is similar to watching your own child get picked last for the stickball team. Now, I am not going to complain about it not catching on. I will simply analyze why it is not popular yet.

It was only introduced about three and a half weeks ago so maybe people aren’t sure about it yet. Also many of the reporters are over 30 and may not be as comfortable with IM as, say, college students. In addition there was not much promotion of the new feature. It was displayed at a decently attended training session, but other than that it is simply sitting on the intranet page waiting for people to find it.

This is, as I see it, one of the main problems of librarianship: informing people that you have really useful services. Actually informing them isn’t that hard, getting them to understand is. People may attend a training session in which they learn that there is this new service that would be useful to them, but until they actually try it out they will not actually understand its usefulness. For example: I “know” that heroin is really addictive, but not having tried it I do not “understand” the concept. How then can we get people to understand the usefulness of library services? By getting them to try it and have a good experience with it. I tried this great soup the other day. I was wary about it because there was no meat in it, and Information Tyrannosaurs need their protein. But I had a great experience with it, so I’ll keep coming back for more.

How then can we get library patrons to try the soup? Well we can’t force it into their mouths, so our only option is to keep telling them that the soup is here and its really delicious. I in fact created a poster today touting the utility of this new IM feature on the local intranet. I cannot make people use my new feature. And if they try it a couple times and don’t find it useful I won’t care and I may have to reevaluate it. I can though, keep trying to alert them to new useful tools though…or at least until I am done with my practicum.

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The Technical Side of IM

Choosing the right technology for your library and what you want to accomplish is important. It could be the difference between success and failure. That is why it took multiple meetings and testings for Jonathan and I to decide which IM service to use in our library.

We finally decided on using Meebo because it has a number of excellent advantages. First, it is a cross-platform service and interacts with all the major IM providers including AIM, MSN, and Yahoo. Next, it is web based so users do not have to download any client software if they do not want to. Finally, it offers “Meebo Me” widgets, which are basically windows embedded into a browser page where you can type and get answers.

It is not without its problems though. It does not provide enough of an alert for monitoring it at the reference desk, unless all the librarians download Firefox (which they should have already, being Information Tyrannosaurs) and then download the Meebo add-on.

We were stumped on what to do for this until we came across a great blog post by Chad Boeninger. It shows you how to hack Meebo together with Pidgin, a piece of IM client software. Pidgin is pretty customizable and adaptable to your needs. It also has excellent options for monitoring IM conversations, so it seemed like the best option for us.

After creating all the IM accounts, testing, and working out all the bugs I think we are at a point where we can actually begin implementing it and rolling out a pilot project. We have a reference meeting after Thanksgiving where Jonathan and I will demonstrating how it works. I am excited to see the staff’s reactions to it.