Category Archives: IM, Meebo & Chat Reference

Web 2.0 & Libraries Parts 1 & 2 Available Free on Hyperlinked Library Site

I am happy to announce the full text of both of my ALA Library Technology Reports are available now at the new TTW companion site The Hyperlinked Library.

The rest of the site is currently under construction, but for now you’ll find:

Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software (2006) –

Web 2.0 & Libraries: Trends & Technologies (2007) –

Special thanks to my SJSU SLIS grad assistant Patrick Siebold who worked very hard the past few weeks inputting the content. I know the examples from ’06 and ’07 may seem out of date and quaint in some ways, but I’m very proud of the framework we used for the works back then. Conversations, Community, Connections, Collaborations – all those great C words Jenny Levine and I used throughout our early social software roadshows in 2005 & 2006 provide a useful context for looking at Web 2.0. I hope these works are still useful to some of you. Comments are open for adding more to the chapters and I plan on doing some types of updating as time permits.

The site will also serve my course Web sites and other items related to my teaching. 

LIS768 Group Projects Day 2

The New Digital Divide

This group explored the New Digital Divide.

Revisiting Ten Things to Stay Tech Current

I’m prepping classes and presentations right now and my eyes fell on this OLD link from walkingpaper:

Aaron lists some things libraries can do to improve techie stuff. How many have you done? How far have we come?

Here’s just a few of his ideas:

3. Have CD burning available for patrons at your workstations. Patrons with slow connectivity at home may want to download large files with fast library connections. Also, they may be working on large documents not easily fit on floppies. Cost = The hardware is not expensive and not too difficult to install. If you’re replacing computers soon the hardware will likely be standard.

4. Related to #3. No dumb computers. I’ve heard Steven Abram (does corporate policy prevent him from blogging? He’s the only vendor I enjoy hearing speak and I bet an Abram blog would be great) state this sentiment bluntly a few times. People have expectations about computers, and ours need to behave like theirs do, but better. Cost = Staff time to configure a protected but free situation. Ghosting software is cheap and a good start. Probably you’ll find a net gain in time.

5. Related to #4. Hassle free browsing. Make sure your users aren’t bombarded by pop-ups from spyware or update/renewal notices for your antivirus program. Allowing these intrusions confuse them. Cost = Perhaps an initial investment of time, but there will be a substantial gain when your users aren’t dependent upon you answering their questions about what to do when something pops up.

6. Answer patron emails quickly. Responding back in 48 or 24 hours isn’t cutting it. Cost = Staff time to answer more questions. If you’re responsive and market this service more people will start emailing you.

7. Use Instant Messaging. There are over 80 million Americans using IM. At least one of them is a patron of yours. Make the library available to them in a relavant way by signing up for a free screen name and marketing it. Make signing on to IM a RefDesk duty. Cost = A bit of staff training time.

Aaron and I advocated for IM like fiends in ’04 and ’05. Now, many libraries have a Meebo embedded librarian. Nice stuff!  I think I need to go back through the TTW posts from 2003 and 2004 and see what I was thinking about back then.

IM – A New Language

OMG! LOL. TTYL. For many adults over the age of 30, the former groupings of letters would seem incoherent, but for a newer generation of technologically-savvy young adults it can say a lot.

“Instant messaging, or IM, is not just bad grammar or a bunch of mistakes,” says Dr. Pamela Takayoshi, Kent State University associate professor of English. “IM is a separate language form from formal English and has a common set of language features and standards.”

Takayoshi, Kent State associate professor of English Dr. Christina Haas and four Kent State undergraduate researchers examined the language of instant messaging. Using IM conversations produced by college students, the group analyzed and identified nonstandard features of the IM language, or the places where writers had used language features which varied from Standard Written English. They found that what looked like nonstandard features of written language were, actually, the standardized features within the IM language. The language of instant messaging was found to be informal, explicit, playful, both abbreviated and elaborated, and to emphasize meaning over form and social relationships over content.

“When we look at the kinds of technology young people are using today,” says Haas, “we see that many of those technologies — IM, blogs and Facebook — are writing technologies. Even the phone is used for writing now.”

Currently, the Kent State team is extending their analysis of IM to the popular Web site to determine whether the site’s language is similar or different to instant messaging standards.

Fascinating study! First thought: are we including studies like this in LIS classes focused on teens and youth? I hope so. Second thought: Teens that can’t get access to Facebook, etc are missing a chance to explore this type of writing/language. Libraries – make sure you offer access!

Put Virtual Reference in the User’s Pocket

Some say that IM is on the verge of extinction and that forging into such territory for virtual reference so late in the game is a waste of a library’s energy. You can surely count me as one of those who agrees with that statement. I predict, as do many others, that virtual reference needs to fit in users’ pockets – in their cell phone.

We need to look at the trends happening now (according to PEW, 2006):
-47% can’t live without their cell phones
-35% use SMS and 13% would like it added to their features
The preceding stats were from the general respondents. Look at what the younger population (18-29) has to say:
-65% use their cells for SMS
-36% want their IMs to be forwarded to their cell
-40% would give up their landline completely for a cell (Note: I’ve done this already)
-56% want access to mobile maps and directions (could we include this into a broader grouping such as “want for general information?”)

Some of us look at our phones and say “jeez, it’s just a phone.” I personally don’t do text messaging because it hasn’t become a part of my communication habits (as an aside, my director jokingly put that I must be “old” seeing that I usually fit in with the tech habits of digital natives). Others see the phone as something greater than what Alexander Bell once did. Obviously, the PEW stats indicate such – the phone is more than a phone – and I’d venture to guess that those stats have risen dramatically over the past two years.

Let’s not stop here, shall we? These are statistical trends, but there other trends, observational trends, that we simply can’t ignore.

Walk into your local Verizon wireless store or AT&T and look at what they offer. More and more these big name cellular companies are introducing Smart Phones (phones with applications, advanced hardware, WiFi access, cameras, and more). These are what’s wanted and what’s needed (by some). Take a look at what the Mobile World Congress introduced this week. More Smart Phones. More technology. More features.

It’s safe to say that Apple knew this a year ago. So what did Apple do even though they knew cell phone users wanted more features (applications specifically)? Apple basically said “you don’t need more applications than what we give you – just be happy.” The couldn’t have been further from the truth. No one was angered more than the high tech iPhone users when they were limited by Apple to its default application settings. These high-end users wanted a software developers kit (SDK) to create more applications and they wanted it that instant. Apple is the whipping boy here – other phone companies have gotten the same treatment.

Finally, Apple was forced to see the light and said “fine, go build your applications – sheesh.”

Guess what. Over 70 applications that provide information services have been created. Nearly 900 total applications have been developed across all categories. Is your library one of them?

We can’t deny the trends. But we can and should adapt our virtual reference services to forge into the cell phone world. Adapt SMS reference, create mobile applications to search the OPAC and federated search tools, and – the biggest one of all – develop your website so it’s viewable on a cell phone or other mobile device.

I’d bet my MacBook Pro that this is the future of virtual reference (and that’s saying something!).

TTW Contributor – Kyle Jones

IM = FASTER Virtual Reference on the Cheap!

Remember the wave of virtual reference talk a few years back? Remember how virtual reference services were supposed to change the very foundations of what we do? Remember how some librarians discovered that those systems required users to navigate into a slowly loading chat queue inside their browsers so you could send, or “push,” pages to them? Remember the price tag to participate in this type of service–let alone the money spent on training and promotion?

Well, guess what? Libraries can use a newer method with the same results–any library, of any size, and for a very low cost that can result in a high return on investment. Many libraries (check out the growing list at the Library Success wiki) have jumped on the instant messaging (IM) train. They are taking what I like to call a “FASTER” ride to effective virtual reference on the cheap.

This service–using the standard IM apps that most folks already have on their PCs and Macs–can give you a snazzy virtual reference presence for a fraction of the cost. Instant messaging, of course, simply involves using any of the three big chat clients to talk in real time through an Internet connection. These major clients are AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), YAHOO! Messenger (YM), and Microsoft Network Messenger.

FASTER IM Reference

Why did I come up with the acronym “FASTER”? Let’s go through the steps in setting up your own service, and you’ll see what you need to do to launch IM reference in your own library. Don’t worry; it will be a smooth ride.

F is for Flow. Go with the IM flow! You won’t be overwhelmed. Your work flow won’t suffer at all if you incorporate an IM application on one of your reference area computers; IM simply becomes part of the reference staff duties. Here at the St. Joseph County Public Library, we’ve been instant messaging with each other and with our patrons for more than a year, with roughly 70-80 IM questions a month from our users. The AskSJCPL service is staffed by the same librarians who work the telephone and public reference desk. Speakers on the reference computer allow them to hear the “ping!” of an incoming message.

Setup was easy: SJCPL registered the screen name AskSJCPL at all three big IM clients online at the chat clients’ respective sites. Just input some basic information and create a name in each one by following the step-by-step directions online. This step is free! Once we had the names, we promoted them on our Web site, on bookmarks, and in a press release to the local media. (Other librarians have used stickers with various “IM a Librarian” slogans for students to stick on their notebooks.)

Do not worry! You will not be inundated by hundreds of messages when you turn on your service. The pace can be anywhere from one or two questions an hour in the morning to five or more after school. SJCPL librarians report that they have never been overwhelmed. If it ever does get super busy, they have extra screen names to transfer questions to waiting reference folks at other service points.

Your work flow will be enhanced, too, if most desks and folks in your libraries can have an individual IM name and be logged on during the work day. You can use IM to efficiently handle quick questions, on-the-spot tech training, and more.

A is for Asking Questions. Remember, IM reference is still reference. Our interview skills still apply: We may need to ask open-ended or clarifying questions. The medium is different, but the skills are the same–with a twist. Because of the virtual nature of IM, we can’t see each other, so we must rely on our words to be open and welcoming.

It’s easy to prepare this type of interaction by using some predefined questions or statements. Ponder these helpful IM scripts for your service:

“I’m going to check some resources. It may take just a few minutes, but I’ll be back…”

“Can you tell me more about how you will use the information you need?”

“I believe your question might be better answered via the telephone or in person. Would it be possible for you to call or stop by the library?”

S is for Software. To really make your virtual IM reference project speed along, use one of the applications that connect to all three (or more!) IM services at once. Instead of opening and logging into three different programs, certain applications allow you to keep multiple accounts open and active through just one interface. Here are some popular choices:

• Trillian–A Windows-based application that supports multiple types of chat. Comes as a basic, free download or as a “pro” version for a fee, includes file transfers, group chats, and chat rooms.

• Gaim–An open source software choice that runs on Windows, Macs, and more, and sports similar features as Trillian.

• Fire–An open source Macintosh application used by SJCPL for virtual reference, with many of the same features as the above.


Any application you choose offers a free or inexpensive way to access all of your IM screen names at once, plus transfer files to users, open multiple-person chats, and even use audio chat, if you have a microphone and speakers.

T is for Training. FASTER IM is a simple service to start, and training time does not have to be extensive. It is important, however, to give all of the participating librarians a chance to practice first. This can take as little as 45 minutes. Although, before “class,” the trainer might want to spend some time learning how the IM application works (experimenting with “sending a file” and copying and pasting items from a browser window to a chat window).

Then, in the classroom, have each student log in and get them talking to each other via chat. Demonstrate how to send a message, paste in text or a URL, and transfer a file, such as a PDF tax form or other document. I use two sets of training questions of the type they might get at the reference desk. Here are some to get you started:

What happened to the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner?

What is Dilantin?

Who is the ultimate parent of Abercrombie & Fitch? What’s their ticker symbol?

How many Borders bookstores are there in the United States?

These will test your librarians’ skills in Web searching as well as in sharing information about the library. These questions and handouts for IM training are available to you on my blog. We certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to launching IM reference!

Want more free IM training resources? Check the sites listed in the sidebar.


E is for Easy. In the case of IM, “easy” simply means making it easy for our users to find us and ask questions. Surveys such as the Pew report on IM use and OCLC’s recent Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources offer evidence that people, especially young people, are using IM every day. Pew reported that 12 percent of U.S. adults use IM on a typical day and about 80 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 use IM at least occasionally. That’s a great reason to test IM reference, especially in academic and public library settings.

It’s also easy in the sense that training is a breeze, plus IM makes it easy for staff to communicate internally. One librarian noted that IM saves toll phone calls in a wide-area library system.

R is for ROI. I think you’ll find a pretty good return on investment for your IM buck. With the software being free, we only need to devote resources to training and promotion. While some librarians see in-person reference desk visits dropping, and others note a decline in phone reference, IM gets librarians out into the busy, busy online world where their patrons are.

Rewards of the Ride

There are so many benefits to doing this! IM offers your staff members a way to communicate electronically from wherever they happen to log on. An IM-savvy staff is prepared for the next wave of technology-based library outreach service. Finally, we are serving our users where they are, for little or no cost. I can’t think of a better–or FASTER-way to reach users!

IM Resources


AskSJCPL Page:

MSN Messenger:

YAHOO! Messenger:

Extra Links:

IM Resources: In the April 2006 issue of Computers in Libraries, my “Tech Tips” piece is all about FASTER IM! Here are the links mentioned in the article. Happy IMing!


AskSJCPL Page:

Edifice Ref’s Trillian Training:


Fire Training:



IM Training at Tame the Web:

Library Success Wiki – Virtual Reference and IM:

MSN Messenger:

OCLC Perceptions:

Pew Report on Instant Messaging:

Sherri Vokey’s IM at UNLV Post:

Sherri Vokey’s Training Modules:


YAHOO! Messenger:


This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine April 2006, published by Information Today Inc.

Some IM & Meebo Links

Dutch students protest via IM and text:

Dutch high school students have been “on strike” this week, protesting against extra school hours. Students spread word to join protests on Friday and Monday using online and mobile phone text messages.

Meebo embedded in the library catalog:

We added a Meebo widget to unsuccessful keyword searches in our library catalog. This way, when a customer searches our catalog and doesn’t find anything, they can contact us via IM and ask for help (we also display our phone number if they want to call).

Hooray! This is exactly what we were talking about in the infamous Xanadu post at TechSource and in the article Rachel and I wrote for CIL, which, sadly, has disappeared from the Web. :-(