IM talking points

No matter how much I seem to flap my gums about instant messaging, I still find some people are interested. As I mentioned in the previous post, the conversation has shifted from getting the occasional “Meh” or “Nope, no way” to “Yes! I know I need to do this, but no one else in my library does!” So over dinner tonight (taste the pesto!) I’m writing the following talking points for people who want to bring up the idea of doing IM. Listed are the usual points of contention and then potentially useful responses. I’m sure it isn’t exhaustive, but is a good starting point. If you think they’ll be useful, copy/paste/print and bring them to a meeting. I hope this helps your library start IMing!

IM is just for kids.
Sure, IM is popular with young people, but the September 2004 Pew Internet/American Life report How Americans Use IM [pdf] reports that 53 million adults were using IM. At the time, 24% of them were doing more IM than email. No doubt this has grown.

IM is going to destroy our computers (a favorite IT chorus).
There were some problems with Microsoft’s MSN Messenger leaving computers a bit at risk, though I haven’t heard of anything lately. But do you know what is an even bigger threat to computers? Web browsers (Internet Explorer in particular). There’s no way that you’ll get rid of browsers, so why is IM verboten? If you want to do IM correctly, you probably won’t be using the AIM/YIM/MSN programs themselves. You’ll use a multi-network program to monitor all networks at once. Trillan and GAIM are good downloadable programs, while meebo requires no download. It lives on the web. It has relatively little interaction with your computer since it is web-based and is therefore all the safer.

We don’t have enough money to do IM.
Unlike virtual reference products from vendors, IM is free. This is one of the reasons why so many people use it. There’s some staff training time involved, which is a cost, but not that much.

Speaking of virtual reference, we’re already doing it with tutor.com / questionpoint / docutek. We don’t need IM.
IM will reach another, larger audience. IMers are enthusiastic about IM. The same can’t be said about web-based chat software. That’s not something people use everyday, and it isn’t something integral to their communication. If you’re worried about reaching patrons that don’t use IM, take a look at meebome. Meebome is a tool that allows non-IMmers to send IMs to someone. Once you customize how you want it to look, you paste a small piece of code into a webpage, and whammo, you’ll have a box in which users can send you IMs. 95% of the user-side function of big VR programs for FREE. You can’t push pages, but people aren’t accustomed to that anyways. There may be less functionalities for *librarians* but this service shouldn’t be in place for our convenience.

The real magic happens when library users add the library’s screen name to their buddy list. Then the library is a presence in their lives whenever they’re online and have their IM program running. Let me repeat that. Through IM, you can be available to your users, among their trusted peers, when they’re operating online. Impossible with big VR products.

We don’t have enough time to do IM.
Time is limited, yes, but training isn’t very difficult. Start in house just playing around, or communicating from workroom to workroom. Everyone will get the hang of it; typing a 100 words per minute isn’t required. Once you go live, you likely won’t get overwhelmed with IMs. If your advertising is that good, you deserve an award. Start with making IM a reference desk duty. Don’t worry, people aren’t going to get mad if you’re helping people online when they walk up as long as you explain what you’re doing. Use those moments to promote your service! If you *do* progress and find that you’re getting more IMs than you can handle on desk, you’ll have the best kind of problem: plenty of people finding your services valuable. With that type of support you can ask for more funding. Being available via IM shows that the library understand trends in information/communication, and is responsive enough to do something about it. This is how libraries stay relevant. Your library has time to devote to remaining relevant, right?

Small bonus
For a list of libraries using IM, check out the Libraries Using IM Reference page on Library Success. There just might be someone from your state you can get to talk to you about their program.

25 thoughts on “IM talking points”

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  2. These are great points, Aaron.

    The UIUC (Univ. Illinois @ Urbana-Chamapaign) Library has been operating IM reference alongside its chat service since Feb 2005. The Undergraduate and Main Reference libraries assisted over 900 IM users in Oct. 2006. It has been phenomenal, in many good ways and one or two stressful ways. (More staff, please?)

    We’ve recently published a paper which provides details on the “other, larger audience” that Aaron mentions as well as the characterisitics of the other, smaller, population which still prefers chat over IM.

    Ward, David and Kern, M. Kathleen. “Combining IM and Vendor-based Chat: A Report from the Frontlines of an Integrated Service.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 6.4 (2006) 417-429. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/v006/6.4ward.html (If you have a subscription at your library.)

    I don’t mean to seem self promoting, but since I get a a lot of emails and phone calls (and chats and IMs) about our service – and I know a lot of people read walkingpaper – I wanted to alert readers to this article. [email protected]

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  8. There are times when sending IM’s produces faster results than talking or making a call, but it depends on the situation. Make use of a system that will make your workplace more functional. Time is really valuable and it is up to us to devise ways on how to properly manage it so that it will not get wasted.

  9. In this day and age, we greatly rely on the Internet especially when we want to communicate to friends or make transactions. this may seem more convenient and saves you time and energy but you also have to keep all the invoices given to you for future reference. As more and more companies strive to go paperless, the importance of keeping something in writing is still valuable to most of us. What we need to do is to keep our private information safe from those who might access them for fraudulent purposes. Let us use technology responsible and not let our guards down.

  10. I agree that the internet is playing more and more of an important role in today’s industries, and maybe instant messaging has its part to play too, it definitely has its advantages, for example in terms of paper usage. It also has its disadvantages too, if they’re not stored somewhere then the correspondence can not be double checked at a later date. I guess when deciding to bring instant messaging into your company, you need to weigh up all of these pros and cons.

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