Tag IM-technique

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.


A while back I posted about IM and SMS ruining Canadian’s command of grammar. I missed a useful bit in the study, which I’ll now post here. The University of Toronto magazine [scroll down] lists the frequency at which IM lingo is used.

Frequency per 100,000 words:
LOL — “laughing out loud”: 195
omg — “oh my god”: 107
brb — “be right back”: 31
ttyl — “talk to you later: 30
btw — “by the way”: 22
nvm — “never mind”: 7
gtg — “gotta go”: 5
np — “no problem: 4
nm — “not much”: 3
lmao — “laughing my ass off”: 2

There you have it. Quite likely the only guide you probably won’t need to decipher patron IMs.

yes, please. thank you, sir.

Study: IM is Surprisingly Formal 🙂 provides some interesting data about the IM use of college students. Most of the content comes from Naomi Baron, mentioned here before in the post generation text and more recently she was quoted in the amazing article “The Net Generation Goes to College”. I’d really like to have a conversation with her, because in the article from The Chronicle she seems to have some old school views on pedagogy, but she takes a very neutral, descriptive approach when it comes to IM and SMS. Here are some bits that I found interesting:

bq. “One of the students said that IM is language under the radar”

This concept is new to me. So often we hear about the security and privacy issues that may or may not be associated with IM, it is novel to hear someone thinking about it in a highly private and underground way.

bq. Like music playing in the background, the students do not put all of their attention into IM…

bq. They also carry on multiple IM conversations at the same time. The average was 2.7, and some students have 12 conversations going simultaneously.

This is a difficult concept for people to grasp, and this ability comes from the multitasking at which Millenials’ can excel. People enjoy the immediacy of IM, but do so without constant rigidness about the rate of responses. This frees librarians to take a bit of time with responses, and to not worry if they need to tell an IM patron that they need to finish with someone in-house. Just like librarians dealing with patrons in different modalities, your IM patrons are likely dealing with other IMers, homework, maybe some music and quite possibly a parent too. Makes the situation when you have an in-house and IM patron seem not quite as bad, huh?

bq. “I had anticipated from what I had read in the popular press about teenagers that the students’ IM would be full of acronyms and abbreviations,” Baron said. Instead, she found in her sample that the writing was more “natural.” Out of 11,718 words, there were only 31 abbreviations (mostly “k” for “ok”), 90 acronyms (mostly “LOL” for “laughing out loud”), and only 49 emoticons (mostly the smiley).

Many librarians are worried about needing the Rosetta Stone to transcribe patrons’ IMs into something resembling English. As I stated at Internet Librarian last week, the issue of abbreviations and IM lingo is a bit overblown. It isn’t as extreme as ppl think.

bq. There were also just 121 misspelled words. “I will have more misspellings in the papers my students turn into me,” Baron said. “And you have to remember there is no spell check on IM.”

Emphasis mine. Does that blow you away, or what? Clearly, they’re doing better than I am with spelling in IMs.

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[@]fordlibrary.org. 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.

testing, 1, 2, 3, testing…?

When someone IMs, asks a ready reference question, and then uses language/spelling/sentence structure like, “What are the hours of this service?” I get suspicious. I have a hunch this was a librarian or LIS student seeing what kind of service they would recieve. If it wasn’t one of the above, it had to be an adult. Either way, they seemed happy and I counted it as an IM reference transaction.

trillian and wikipedia

The questions keep on coming, folks. I’ve done more Readers’ Advisory this summer than I’ve done in quite some time. I wanted to point out a neat feature in the latest version of Trillian (which has been out for quite some time now). The program checks IMs for words found in wikipedia.* So when this patrons asked me about Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Honky by Dalton Conley and Romeo and Juliet, the words were underlined with dots. Mousing over popped-up a box contaning part of the wikipedia entry. Click the image to see what was going on.

Now, in a perfect world, the IMs from me to the user would be annotated by the information of my choice in this way. But for now I guess I’ll get to enjoy the added info. Maybe someone will IM me about the heavy metal umlaut and I’ll get to mouse over.

Oh, and an aside, can anyone guess what kind of bike that is on my desktop?

*I feel silly linking to wikipedia. Do you think it is a pointless as linking to google?

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.

IM reference interviewing

When I started library school I thought that the “reference interview” was something librarians made up so they’d have something to write articles about. Was I ever wrong!

I really enjoy seeing the way reference transactions unfold. The neat thing about doing reference via IM is that you’re left with a record of it to look over.*

patron: hey whats up
me: hi
me: have a question?

patron: what do u mean
me: this is the thomas ford memorial library….we have a s/n in case anyone needs to ask a question, renew a book or whatever
patron: oh ya do u have any books on the American Revolution
me: yeah, are you looking for fiction or are you doing a report?
patron: ya
me: do you have a particular topic about the AmerRev?
patron: maybe about where the wars took place like a map
me: ok, i can find you a book on that, or i can see if i can find you a webpage that might have some info…
patron: k
me: which would you like?
patron: could u save a couple books for me
me: yeah, no problem. i can put them at the reference desk (the back desk) for you. what name should i put them under?
patron: [gives name]
me: ok, will do.

me: laters
patron: bye bye

Overall, this seems to be a decent reference transaction. One thing I noticed when marking up the text is that I typed many more words than my patron. Kids are accustomed to using the new varient of English that they’re unknowingly developing through IM and SMS, adults are accustomed to their old guard English. Just like I can tell from two IMs whether someone pinging me is younger or an adult (or somewhere in between), I’m sure that kids can tell that I’m not quite one of them (even though I IM on a daily basis).

Any ideas about the little prelude to the question? Was this patron feeling me out, seeing if the library really was using IM? Perhaps this is equivalent to this type of common F2F exchange:

me: Hi, what can I help you with? Are you finding everything okay?
patron: Yeah, I’m okay, thanks.
But you know what? Where would I…
me: (thinks – heh, got another one!)

The ellipsis in the IM transaction is bonus link to a bit more of our conversation. Check out how excited this patron was at the possibility of games in the library!

*This feature of IMs also needs to be taken seriously when it comes to privacy concerns.

balancing act

It is true that being available through IM will impact your workflow, just like adding telephone and email reference did. Take a look at this post I saw from our internal staff communication blog:

Sunday afternoon

At one point this afternoon, I had had 3 walkup, 3 phone, and 3 IM reference questions.

Some might say, “That’s quite a bit going on.” That’s not false, but the statement shouldn’t have any negative implications. In other words: How cool is it to have more people using the library?

no babel fish

I’ve occasionally posted a few cute things kids have sent to the library’s IM screen name. Not only are they funny, but they give an insight into the way IM is being used. Also, I think posting it here counts as sending it to ten people. I’m off the hook. Anywho, if you’re not familiar with how some kids write using IM and text messaging, consider this a training session.

u r my friend…..send this to 10 ppl in the next 5 min………and……..u will get kissed on friday by da luv of ur life…. DONT BREAK THE chain!ur crush will ask u out. 2morow will b da best day of ur life. Howeva, if u don t send this 2 least 10 ppl bye least 12:00 2nite u will hav bad luck in ur luv lyf for eternity NO SEND BK