Embedding a Librarian in Your Web Site Using meebo

Did last year’s “FASTER IM” article fire you up for on-the-cheap virtual reference? Have you launched your own instant messaging “ask a librarian” service and added it to your workflow? Are you ready for the next step? Then read on. And don’t worry, you can use these tips to start IM in your library now if you haven’t already.

Last time we discussed IM (April 2006 CIL, “IM=FASTER Virtual Reference on the Cheap!”), I presented the FASTER model, for any type or size of library. This model addresses questions about implementation, workflow, and training:

F is for going with the Flow at your reference desk.

A is for Asking Questions, as in any reference transaction.

S is for the variety of Software available to access IM accounts.

T is for making sure your staff gets IM Training.

E is for Easy–easy to use and easy for patrons to find you.

R is for the great ROI you’ll get from this low-cost service.

In a year, a few things have changed. Newer IM software tools make it even easier to incorporate IM into your library’s Web presence. This month, let’s look at meebo and meebo me.

Meet meebo and meebo me

meebo is a Web-based IM aggregator that can access all of your IM accounts without installing an IM client. The IM windows and buddy lists open inside the Web interface. The meebo About page states: “meebo.com is a website for instant messaging from absolutely anywhere. Whether you’re at home, on campus, at work, or traveling foreign lands, hop over to meebo.com on any computer to access all of your buddies … and chat with them, no downloads or installs required, for free!” What more could IMers on-the-go need but a meebo account and Web access?

meebo me creates the code to insert an IM window directly into any Web page–your library blog, wiki, or Contact Us page–anywhere you’d like the library to be present.

Benefits of using meebo include the helpful fact that viruses cannot get through the Web interface, thus placating your IT department’s concerns about security; easy access to all of your IM accounts, such as AOL, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ, and MSN; and the ability for anyone to IM you, even when you are not online. The message is saved and will pop up the next time you log in. At our recent Social Libraries Roadshow at Illinois State University, Jenny Levine called this “voice mail for the Web.” in the morning, you might log in to meebo and find a few reference inquiries waiting for your reply.

Getting Started With meebo

To get started, go to www.meebo.com and try logging in to your IM account. Or get a free account. The help page states, “You can tog onto any of your existing IM accounts or you can create a meebo account which will conveniently remember your screen names and passwords, save your preferences, and with chat logs, your previous conversations are always close by.” Another benefit: meebo chat logs will save IM conversations so you can refer back as needed.

Creating a meebo account and then logging in allows you to add all of your IM screen names to your meebo page. Click on the “accounts” link on the lefth-and side of the meebo Web window and choose which IM client you’d like to add. Input your username and password.

Adding IM Screen Names to meebo

Once configured, you can log in to meebo and automatically log in to all of your screen names. This is perfect for the library’s FASTER IM reference service: You can aggregate all of your screen names into one Web window. IM-savvy librarians can also use meebo to tap into the networks of IMing colleagues across the globe. These days, it seems entire conference presentations are created and finalized via IM.

Don’t worry if you’d rather not have all of your messages and chats confined to one Web browser window. Clicking a small button on the meebo windows will also free the boxes from the Web browser and allow them to float on your screen. Many of the same features (status messages, flashing menu bar alerts, etc.) are featured in the meebo interface as well.

Other customizable features include sounds for notification of messages, various colors of skins for your windows, and emoticons. In the preferences area, you can also decide to keep chat logs of IM conversations. For chats with colleagues, this might be a useful way to keep track of projects and plans.

meebo Rooms: meebo will also generate a chat room to use with other IMers. You can configure the room, invite buddies, and display video inside the space. Librarians might use the rooms for chats with colleagues, planning, or online chats with groups of library users.

meebo me: meebo’s help pages describe meebo me as “a small chat window that you can put on your webpage for visitors to talk with you.… Your buddy list at meebo.com will light up when someone visits your page and then you can double click on their name to strike up a conversation. In one click, no registration or download required, visitors can start typing in the chat window on your page to talk with you.”

In our age of open tools, ease of use, and the creation of a seamless user experience, it might be useful to embed a meebo me widget in various places around your Web site. Your blog, library wiki, or the Contact Us page are all likely candidates for an embedded librarian. See the Darien Library Contact Us page for a great example of a meebo me widget in play. Someday, I’d like to see meebo me librarians on every results page of a library search interface, placing the librarian at the point of need with our users!

Grab That Code

A simple three-step process includes configuring the name of your widget and display name, choosing the size of your widget and colors, and entering your meebo account information. In a few clicks, the code you need to embed your widget is generated and can be pasted wherever you’d like a presence for your IM librarian. The site displays these steps:

  1. Just copy and paste this code into your Web site HTML where you’d like the widget to appear.
  2. Sign into meebo.com.
  3. See the visitors on your site, and start talking with your fans!

More Functionality for Free!

Take a look at the free blog-hosting solution WordPress.com. A ready-to-go sidebar module for meebo me is included in the templates and configurations. The RSS aggregator portal Netvibes that we configured as a librarian’s portal in the April issue also includes a meebo me widget. The possibilities with this widget for online presence are practically endless. Where would you like to embed the librarian?

Take a look at what some libraries are doing with meebo and meebo me. Does putting the library at the point of your users’ needs via a simple, seamless interface sound like it should cost thousands of dollars and require IT support? Guess what? With just some staff time for setup and training, this is another virtually free way to reach out where your users are!

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine September 2007, published by Information Today Inc.