My new friend, and fellow Wesleyan alum, Stephen Francoeur, wrote:

Wouldn’t it be cool if your patrons could use an IM client to chat with your web contact center software (such as the versions of eGain offered by Tutor.com and 24/7 Reference or Docutek’s VRLplus)? We know huge percentage of our users are already using instant messaging, but imagine if they could add your library’s chat reference service to their buddy list and then use their IM client to chat with you via your very expensive virtual reference software. Or perhaps some day they’d be able to use their text messaging abilities on their cell phones to communicate with your chat software.

Yes! Yes! Yes! This would be the ultimate solution! Instead of librarians using a dozen different means (virtual reference software, IM, SMS, etc) to be available to patrons, wouldn’t it be great for librarians to use one means and yet be available to people who are using any means? Fabulous! Of course, this would require a lot of work to create interoperability and to deal with security and authentication issues, but it’s certainly worth asking the virtual reference software vendors about. But first, let’s get them to design software that doesn’t require users to disable java or the proxy server. :)

Until we have that kind of interoperability, I think we should offer IM as an option for communicating with patrons. Librarians need to recognize that IM isn’t just “a toy students are using”; that it is a legitimate way of communicating with patrons. Like Sherri found in her survey, people are much more likely to use library services if it doesn’t mean changing their routine (ie. using a different communication medium). It’s normal human psychology. Jybe, also, is a cool tool for working with patrons, but the fact that it requires users to install something and use software they’re unfamiliar with may act as a barrier to some. I know I’d be hesitant about installing software I don’t know anything about, even if my library was telling me to.

Does anyone know of libraries that are using Jybe for virtual reference? I’d love to hear about your/their experiences. I’m going to be visiting a library next week that does, so I’ll be sure to report on how it’s working out for them.