IM at CIL 2005

I was pleased to see some more presentations about IM at CIL2005. In addition to my presentation with Michael, there was a 15 minute cybertour and another 45 minute session. The other session, “IM: Providing Services and Enhancing Communication” (given by two librarians from the business school at University of Michigan was great for a number of reasons. It was neat to see not only a library director at CIL, but one that was talking about the value of IM. She shared a personal story to begin. Her daughter was being aggressively recruited by a number of colleges, all of which took different tactics to get in touch with her. She ignored the mail, email, and telephone calls, but responded to the soccer coaches savvy enough to send her IMs. Wow. Another great thing about their presentation was how seriously they took their IM project. When the director, Tomalee Don, realized it was going to be an issue, she restructured her department to make room for IM. Not only did she switch around parts of her staff, she hired new staff. To cover evening hours, she hired students from the school of Information, trained them to use business reference materials, and had them work as Circulation supervisors/IM librarians. This restructuring and IM brought her better qualified Circ clerks!

The questions asked at the IM presentations were different from others I have received: they were informed. Being more advanced, they indicated that more people are experimenting with IM and spending time thinking about it. This is good. Since others out there might have similar questions, I’ve recorded them and will post them here, the first one perhaps being the most frequently asked question:

Q: What do you do if you’re doing an IM question and a patron walks up to you?
A: I’m going to summarize Tomalee Don’s response for this. She stated that she treats students entering the library virtually just as she treats those who enter physically. “Virtual patrons are as important as in-house ones,” she said. This was amazing to hear, and a very good answer.

Q: How do I promote an IM service if I start one?
A: I think IM services promote themselves. As soon as a few people start using the service, they’ll think it is so cool that they’ll share your screen name with their friends. In the presentation I mentioned Brian Smith’s strategy that worked all too well; sending flyers around to the local schools. Other things to consider are putting a page on your website with details of the program, and handing out flyers/bookmarks/business cards at your library.

Q: How many people can be signed onto an IM account at the same time?
A: Probably a near unlimited amount, but it is my experience that only the first person to have signed on will receive the initial questions when a patron IMs. Therefore, using IM for a statewide VR project only makes sense if one library/person is signed on at a time. This being said, any statewide collaborative project negates the community building aspect of IM.

Q: How many screen names should my library sign up for?
A: Chances are that having one central IM contact might be the simplest thing for your users. However, if you’re at a large library, consider having a screen name for Reference, and one for, say, the Audio-Visual department like Michael’s library is doing.

Lastly, a woman in the audience for our presentation shared an interesting use for IM in her library. They use it to communicate from floor to floor to track patrons trying to get more time on their web terminals. I never would have thought to use IM as a security type tool.

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