IM as answering machine or “the not so instant message”

I’ve been cognizant of leaving our library’s screen name on, but set to away status, when we close for the night. The message reads:

Hey, sorry, but we’re closed right now. If you have a question, leave us a message, or send an email to info[@] We’ll be open in the morning at 9:30. Thanks!

In the morning there are generally a few messages from younger patrons saying something like, “its 10:30 what are you still doing at the library!?” and then “oh” when they get the away message sent to then automatically. But there are a number of gems to be found among these other IMs*. Kids are starting to leave questions. Some ask for a reply, some just pose the question, perhaps assuming we’ll get back to them when we can, and a few have left email addresses. While we’re not getting 10 questions per night when the library is closed, or even five, it is still more than the number of emails we get from teens. This is, of course because IM is their preferred method of communication.

Browser-based chat programs default to email when the library is closed, even though the patron wanted to chat. Just like your personal account, leaving the library IM name signed in can extend your library’s presence and availability. All of this speaks to the flexibility of IM.

*It could be argued that any IM of this sort is a gem because it humanizes the library and makes people familiar with it.

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