Librarian: How Do You IM? A TTW Survey

I think IM in my public library is an example of the generation gap between staff members. We do not allow patrons to IM on library computers, and staff are not supposed to IM, either. However, many of the young professionals do have one or more IM programs downloaded onto their computers (inclduing the IT department), and we use IM at work. The staff that uses IM are more likely to want the IM and games ban dropped on public computers and want to start reference IM, a library blog, etc. So I see a direct correlation between librarians/library staff who IM and those who are forward thinking about library programs and technology. Survey Respondent

This is a companion report to a brief presentation I’m gave at Computers in Libraries on Wedenesday. It was a quickly created and mounted survey. Someday I hope to do a much more official one. Here’s what I found:

Are Staff Allowed to IM?

Here we see most of the respondents can use IM at their workstations.

Next, does your library do IM outreach or are there plans to do so:

Does your library offer IM Reference?

Plans to Launch IM?

My conclusion: Our Work is Not Yet Done

Many libraries might find that IM would work very well as an add on or as a replacement for virtual referebce, depending on their users.

The focus for my few minutes was on IM building community. Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches-Johnson came after me to share real world examples and insight.

Here’s what Howard Rheingold said about virtual community: “Social aggregators that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.” (Rheingold, 1993)

Survey Respondents said:

IM communication builds community between colleagues – 89% agree or somewhat agree

I feel like I’m part of the community of IMing librarians – 53% disagreed or somewhat disagreed

I have IM contacts in libraries throughout my country on my Buddy List – 66% disagree

I have IM contacts in libraries all over the world on my Buddy List – 84% disagree

The last two prompted me to say “I live in a bubble” because I IM with folks all over the world. I think folks like me are the exception.

Qualitative Data:

What are the benefits of IM:

It’s made it easier to communicate and to arrange meetings, carpools, etc.

I can discuss projects in real time with colleagues that are thousands of miles away or right down the road. It makes collaborating easier and opens up many doors.

IM has begun to build bridges across the traditional staff/faculty divide.

There is greater connection between us than before.

This comment was telling. Could it be about your library sytem? Do you have discouraged librarians in your system? Be careful or you may lose them! Here’s the comment:

Many librarians in my library system would like to use IM both for reference and for staff purposes. However, this library system is very reluctant to change and slow to respond to most new ideas. I feel very discouraged when I meet with professionals in other library systems that get to try new things.

I also got some feedback about barriers in some libraries that prevent the librarians from using IM. One type of barrier was the perceived intrusiveness of IM:

I don’t use it. email works just fine for me, without the intrusiveness of IM.

E-mail is much better, or the phone.

Another was time:

We are a small staff and don’t have time to be confined to the computer

Or IT barriers:

Our City IT has forbidden its use for security reasons, so we rely on email, phone, and face-to-face conversations to communicate and maintain relationships.

The most interesting to me was the perceived “digital divide” in many libraries.

Creates a digital divide, lots of LastGen librarians at MPOW who don’t use it and are out of the loop.

I think IM in my public library is an example of the generation gap between staff members. We do not allow patrons to IM on library computers, and staff are not supposed to IM, either.

So, again, our work is not yet done. Did you know that there are only 65 libraries doing IM reference listed on the LibSuccess wiki? Maybe in another year we’ll see a lot more — maybe even more school libraries!

Here are my suggestions for moving forward if you are interested in IM in Libraries:

More education
More case studies/ Let’s tell some stories of successful IM interaction
A guide to librarian’s IM names on a wiki (I think Meredith had the page done before I sat down)
More discussion with key players (IT, etc)
Examination of security issues

Librarians who IM

Add your name to the growing list! Click here!