“Combining IM and Vendor-based Chat: A Report from the Frontlines of an Integrated Service.” 1

Kathleen from University of Illinois at Urbana-Chamapaign left a comment about a paper she recently published. I like the UIUC doesn’t see IM and web-based chat as an either/or proposition and look forward to reading the paper.

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.)[emphasis mine].

I wonder how many people they helped through web-based chat. With those figures, I’d like to take the cost of implementing IM, and the cost of buying web-based chat software and take a look at the ROI. Maybe I should read the article! Kathleen?

IM vs. Web-based Chat 1

UPDATE: Hmm, my comments seem to have been moderated off the blog. I guess it is a staff-type internal blog, but it isn’t password protected and the comments appeared posted without being approved. Oh well, maybe someone there saved my thoughts and will email me so I can paste them in here.

Steven M. Cohen pointed me to a blog post discussing an article that Sarah and I wrote for “Online.” The article isn’t up on the “Online” website yet (and I don’t know for certain if it’ll be available there for free) but I did find a pdf of it in EBSCO’s MasterFILE Elite. (They have a thing for capitalization).

The author of the post agrees with “almost everything” we wrote, but has some (constructive) criticism about the depth of the article, and the balance of it.* After his post (which has some great ideas about starting a cooperative VR service using IM) I address what he saw as the article’s shortcomings. I hope the conversation continues over there or here.

Now of only the article was available…

*In a sentence: If they would have given us the whole magazine, we would have filled it. 😉

more XP SP2 woes 0

LiB details some more issues with Windows XP SP2 and web-based chat software. Here is one of the best bits from her post:

Users and librarians don’t want to have to alter their computers’ set-up so they can use a service. They don’t want to have to expose their machines to security risks needlessly, just so they can answer or ask questions. And they shouldn’t have to. They should be able to access our library services using their computers as they are, using interfaces and programs that they’re already comfortable with, and not have to squish and jostle their technology into fitting with our ridiculous requirements.

She links to the previous post here, and I’m linking over there, so that these posts will forever reference one another. Yay!

some problems with virtual reference 2

I came across Virtual Reference: Alive & Well by Brenda Bailey-Hainer the other day. The piece is a response to “To Chat Or Not to Chat—Taking Another Look at Virtual Reference, Part 1” and ”…Part 2” by Coffman and Arret.

The article takes a look at statistics that Coffman and Arret didn’t. It cites encouraging numbers from statewide projects and gives some tips for being successful with VR. I like the article, in particular because “To Chat…” left me with an icky feeling. However, if people are going to be debating that state of Virtual Reference, it might be valuable to examine some inherent problems with the systems. If we do this we can perhaps see these as the cause of issues that arise with VR. Also, importantly, we can think about trying to address the problems.

Virtual Reference is not user-centric. Expecting people to enter into and operate in a little world that vendors have created is a bit naive. VR systems clearly were built with librarian in mind. The benefits awarded librarians vs. patrons illustrate this.

Benefits for Librarians
Authentication scheme
Record keeping (stats, transcripts)

Benefits for Patrons
Transcripts via email
Ability to received pushed pages

These patron benefits are a bit weak. Transcripts of the chat may be useful for patrons, but having pages pushed on them isn’t that valuable when the alternative is simply clicking a link.

Virtual Reference does not connect patrons to their community. Bailey-Hainer is correct about statewide VR (or other large scale collaborative) projects being the only viable solution. Software and staff time costs are generally too high for localized options to be viable. Large scale projects can (somewhat) successfully answer patrons’ general reference questions, but they cannot provide answers to local questions or handle home library specific tasks.

These tasks often have to do with materials, e.g. holds, renewals, and fines. To resolve home library specific tasks, the remote VR Librarian is forced to either simply push a webpage where the patron might be able to solve her problem, give the patron the phone number to his home library, or call the home library themselves. I tried this last option on one occasion and it was awkward. It might be wholly inappropriate for many home library specific questions to be asked by an intermediary VR Librarian. If someone called asking me to peer into my patrons’ records, I would be a bit suspicious. If fact, I hope this would raise red flags for all of the staff at my library. When a telephone must be used in this way to take care of the request, VR (in this form) doesn’t seem to be the right tool for the job.

Although general reference questions (not home library specific), can be answered through VR, they don’t have as much added value for the patrons or librarians as other chat based interactions (such as Instant Messaging) can have. The added value that is missing is community. Many patrons have lists of their trusted peer groups in their IM programs. To use current VR services, they can’t consult their peer group. In a certain sense they must leave their comfort zone when they enter into our VR services. We shouldn’t be asking our patrons to do this. Imagine instead the comonsense proposition of libraries being where our patrons already are. Imagine them adding us into their trusted peer group. Imagine our patrons not having to jump through hoops to chat with us.

To be fair, chat-based Reference via Instant Messaging has received some words of concern. A number of people have raised the issue of chat logs being stored on company servers and the resulting privacy issues. While it is good to be mindful of this, it is only raised because IM is a new (and unfamiliar) technology. My ‘IM as email on steroids’ analogy works here. Many private companies have had the content of our email conversations with patrons on their servers for years. Not many bat an eyelash at this these days. Is there a privacy concern with email and IM stored on servers we don’t control? Perhaps, who can say? But the potential risk isn’t stopping us from emailing our patrons. So it will be with IM in years to come.

One of the most significant concerns of using IM for chat Reference is authentication. Note that this is a significant concern for our well being, not our patrons’. Many libraries are concerned about being exposed on the web, leaving themselves open to answer reference questions from a grandma in Deutschland. I can’t help but think that the same issue was raised when email and telephone reference began years ago. Also, we should all hope that our marketing is superb enough to reach people that aren’t our patrons. If you’ve ever tried to market a library service, you know how difficult it can be to reach your patrons, let alone someone from the next town over. PubLibs shouldn’t have a problem serving someone that wanders into the library that isn’t a resident of their community, and they shouldn’t have a problem answering an electronic question from a nonresident either.

All of this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be doing things with standard Virtual Reference. The concept is still very new, and thorough our influence, can evolve into something more appropriate. Right now, though, it is just addressing a symptom – “We need to be answering questions for patrons online.” Perhaps in the future it will be able to address the root problem – “We need to be connecting to our patrons online.”

majority 0

Wowie Zowie! AOL just released their Second Annual Instant Messaging Trends Survey. They not only studied users of their IM service, but also other IM networks as well.

Technobiblio has already made some great comments about the survey’s library implications, but there a few facts worth stating here:

-Nationwide and around the world, instant messaging use is growing, with more than 7 billion [1] instant messages being sent every day worldwide, according to IDC. ComScore Media Metrix [2] reports that there are 250 million people across the globe – and nearly 80 million Americans – who regularly use instant messaging as a quick and convenient communications tool. [emphasis mine]

Think a few of the 80 million people using IM are your library patrons, or potential patrons?

-Ninety percent of Internet-savvy teens and young adults say they send instant messages, and 71 percent of those ages 22-34 say the same.

-IM Screen Name as Calling Card: When meeting someone new, those ages 13-21 are as likely to give out their IM screen names (52 percent) as their e-mail addresses (53 percent). This group is also as likely to use instant messaging (33 percent) as mobile phones (38 percent) to keep in touch with friends. Instant messaging is now tied with mobile phones (36 percent) as the preferred way to stay in touch with friends over the summer.
These facts fit well with the notion that heavily populated buddy lists are status symbols for teens. (200 is the limit when using AIM)

-IM to SMS – Watch Out!: While SMS text messaging still dominates in the mobile messaging arena, 32 percent of all mobile messengers now use an instant messaging service on their mobile device instead of, or in addition to, sending SMS text message.

My library related thoughts are this: 80 million is an impressive number. There is no way there are 80 million people using non-IM live chat for communicating. A number of companies have live chat on their websites but it is not as ubiquitous as IM. If we want to be relevant to our patrons and be on the same communications page Virtual Reference isn’t the way to do it. The public is already using IM. Having to enter another online environment to simply chat is a silly notion to them. Is VR tantamount to placing cyberhurdles between patrons and libraries?