TTW Mailbox: IM Reference in Smaller Libraries

A question to Rachel and I about my FASTER IM piece in CIL:

Hello Rachel and Michael,

Thanks a lot for the fine IM FASTER article. If you have a second, I’d like to ask one question. You state, “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… The AskSJCPL service is staffed by the same librarians who work the telephone and public reference desk.” You refer to computers and librarians, plural. The majority of the time our reference desk is staffed by a single librarian and we frequently would not have any of the backups in place that you describe. I have to confess that it does sound overwhelming. Do you ever have only one librarian on duty? Do you think that IM reference would be feasible at your library were that the case?

Thanks so much,

David McCusker
Public Services Librarian
American River College

Hi David – Great question, and one I have had before! Adding IM presence to your one person reference desk really should not disrupt the flow of the librarian’s work at all. I have yet to hear of any library that was overwhelmed with IM questions (other than the story out of Homer Glen, IL when a bunch of students all tried out the service at once one afternoon after school). Make it part of your information policy: in person questions first, then phone, then IM, then e-mail (if you do it), then snail mail. If it’s part of information services, there’s nothing wrong with looking up from the screen and saying to the patron” “I am just finishing up with an IM reference question and I’ll be right with you…” (or some such..)

IM folk probably wouldn’t mind being asked to hang out as well if you had to help someone real quick as well.

Also know this is just one small step toward a new landscape of the way folks may ask questions of their librarians: IM, SMS, etc. Be ready for the time that questions come in to the library from any number of devices and all aggregate into one place — your reference desk computer — because from what I can tell, it’s coming!