Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On IM and Libraries, some musings

As another semester rolls along, I find myself busy teaching. I started experimenting with using IM as an option for my students to contact me. As I am catching up with some feeds, I came across Joy's post on "IM a Librarian." I thought about adding the status widgets to my blogs' sidebars, but the coding was not as easy as it looked, so I decided against it. While she is writing about a library service, as opposed to a single librarian, at least part of her post made me think about the process.

For one, Joy reports that during orientation at her institution, when promoting the IM service, a surprising number of students said, "I don't do that." In my setting, I would not find that remark surprising. Most of the students here use MySpace or a similar tool, but IM seems to be something they don't do. This is based on observation in our computer lab and asking now and then. They do use texting on their cells quite a bit. Those are the students with a bit of tech savvy. In fact, I have had a student in one of my classes actually did not know what MySpace was. In some other campus, I would have wondered what rock was she hiding under. In this campus, that would be consistent with the student demographic.

I am beginning to accept the possibility that IM may not be working for me because a lot of the students simply don't use it, whether by ignorance or choice. This also leads me to believe that use of IM as a form of virtual reference by the library may not succeed, at least not anytime soon and not as long as IM is not something on the student's radar. While I like the idea of offering as many options as possible, I don't think IM would work in our setting. Individually, I can keep my IM open on my desktop while I do other things. For the library as a whole, this would require some collective effort. Given concerns about manpower and covering the Information Desk as they are now, suggesting the addition of monitoring any incoming IM's at the desk may not sit well with some of my colleagues.

What is working so far for us is the e-mail form for asking a librarian on our website. It does get a good amount of use. Personally, students from my classes will send me an e-mail directly to my address when they need help, and I do get a good number of visits at my desk. In fact, I think they are coming a bit earlier in the semester these days, which I take as a good sign. Anyhow, just random musings.


Meredith said...

Just goes to show that IM (like any other way of communicating with students) is not something every library should necessarily do. At my library, students use AIM like crazy, but at other libraries, as you mentioned, I'm sure that's not the case. You have to go where your patrons are and use the tools that they use. I hope most librarians don't expect patrons to adopt a tool just to communicate with a librarian. Highly unlikely. ;)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Meredith: Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I would hope that most librarians are not expecting adoption of a tool just to communicate with a librarian. However, a lot of the libloggingsphere seems to be enamored with the idea of IM. At least, there is a significant number of postings on use of IM to give an impression that IM is one of the greatest things to come along, and that we should be adopting it or face irrelevancy. As you point out, it may work for you, but, at least for now, not for us. Best, and keep on blogging.

Bronwyn said...

And I sometimes wonder if this particular generation thinks of IM as a tool to use only with friends and peers and wouldn't even consider it for talking to a librarian.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Bronwyn: That certainly can be a possibility. I have seen a couple other librarians bring up that issue when they discuss use of IM or having a profile in a social page like Facebook. In my campus at least, I don't see as much usage of it based on observation and asking, but I do know most if not all have cellphones and may be texting instead. Lack of a computer at home is a significant issue in my campus, thus the more reliance on a cell, at least, that is one of my theories. Thanks for stopping by. Best, and keep on blogging

The ZenFo Pro said...

Great post. A big part of the problem with many library services these days is a concept I call "blind standardization" within librarianship. Instead of basing the adoption of new technologies based on actual, localized user needs analysis, most institutions spend more time playing the "Keeping Up with the Joneses" game - its easier to simply regurgitate some whiz-bang service that works at one library and to then worry about needs accessment later. Too many services within librarianship have been adopted because of what's popular at conferences, as opposed to simply asking user groups what it is they actually need.

IM service is popular where I work, but it won't work everywhere and it will never have the penetration of, say, face-to-face reference. Even through my unorthodox, er, blog reference, I've found that to be true.

See...I'm really a librarian :D

Angel, librarian and educator said...

ZenFoPro: Thanks for stopping by. I do think a lot of this does have to do with the "keeping up with the Joneses." E-mail so far works for us, even though you have the recent article saying e-mail is for old folks (sorry, don't have the link handy now). This week, I have had at least 3 different students e-mailing me for assistance. That does not count the ones who use the library's ask a librarian form. Could we use IM down the road? I am not averse to it, but for now, it's not going to happen. For now, let's go with what works. Best, and keep on blogging.