Friday, March 09, 2007

Article Note: Short one on reference in the age of IM

Citation for the article:

Oberhelman, David D. "Reference Service and Resources in the Age of Instant Messaging." Reference Reviews 21.2 (2007): 7-8.

I read this via Emerald.

This is a short viewpoint essay discussing the use of instant messaging (IM) for reference communications. I am just going to make some quick notes and remarks.

  • "Instant messaging (IM) services such as ICQ, Yahoo! Instant Messenger, and Microsoft's MSN Messenger are among the most popular internet applications for communication, and many libraries, including my own [the author's] academic library, have started implementing instant messenger (IM) reference service to replace earlier reference packages" (7).

As noted in other places, proprietary/VR packages provided by vendors are often notorious for their failures when it comes to thinks like connectivity and compatibility with distant patrons. Use of IM is probably something we should look at or consider at some point. With IM aggregators like Trillian and Meebo, multiple accounts would be easy to create and use. The challenge for us here may be mostly desire and staffing. Unique to us would also be our demographic, which does not seem to favor IM very much. Based on experience and talking to some students, I get the impression IM use by our students is on the rare side. Personally, I use IM, and I give out my own usernames to my students in case they wish to contact me that way.

  • ". . .we have noted that contrary to our expectations, IM reference has in some respects increased the usage of subscription databases and even print resources we use and even print reference sources over free web sources located using Google" (8).

This reminds me of a question my supervisor recently asked while were musing about reference print usage. She wanted to know how often the librarians would get up from the desk to show students a resource from the reference stacks. I told her that personally I probably did it maybe once a week. I probably could be doing it more if I was more aware. In my context, answering that question could mean that if the librarians don't use the reference collection as a general practice, then the library would have more evidence to get rid of it. Given our extreme space constraints, getting rid of anything that takes up a lot of space, like a print reference collection, is a very attractive option given various reference books do have e-book counterparts. But that is another debate.

  • "In general, my institution's experience with IM reference has made more patrons aware of what we offer both in print and electronically" (8).

And I like this line. Then again, I always like the image of the bridge in relation to library services:

  • "Yet my library has managed to use IM to promote our local holdings. The IM technology creates a bridge between the reference librarian and our patrons that enable many who might otherwise never approach the reference desk to ask for help" (8).

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