Participants: Amanda Etches-Johnson, Aaron Schmidt, and Michael Stephens

Why are we spending so much money on commercial software when we could just put an IM name online for our patrons?

There are 65 libraries currently providing IM on the Library Success Wiki.

Michael Surveyed a bunch of librarians on IM

50.5% are allowed to use IM for professional and personal use.

25.6% says that they are not allowed.

62% of librarians do not provide outreach via IM.

25.3% of academic librarians use IM.

Survey says!: not enough libraries are using IM to reach their users. Our patrons are interacting via IM, so we should too.

89% of librarians agree that IM builds community among colleagues. Only 53% feel they’re a part of that community.

One academic librarian has said that IM is building bridges across the staff/faculty divide.


  • Some people think IM is intrusive
  • Some people think IM is too time-consuming
  • Some IT departments disallow or block IM due to “security issues.”
  • It creates a digital divide versus “last gen” librarians and “next gen” librarians
  • Policies that IM is a waste of time

Michael had the great idea for a directory of IM screen names of all IM-ing librarians. All you gotta do is ask! See this page on the Library Sucess wiki

Aaron tells us that MySpace is now going to soon have an external IM client. Will this be bigger than AIM?

Most communities in libraries are for older folks.

At Thomas Ford Memorial Library: 75% of questions are from children and teens.

You will get the same sort of questions on IM that you will get on a virtual reference desk.

People who IM often use slang and abbreviations. Young people have their own IM shorthand. It’s important that librarians are aware of the slang.

Community building aspects of IM: Users were adding the library screen name to their buddy list. If we live on their buddy list, we are basically in their home. They know when we’re online as soon as we go online. We want people to add us to their buddy list so that we are the first person they go to online.

Commercial virtual reference is expensive and it makes patrons jump through hoops (i.e. use a client they are not familiar with).

Amanda Etches-Johnson is up now. She works in an academic library and offers IM reference through AIM, MSN and Yahoo! Messenger. They had never before used commercial virtual reference.

What they’ve gotten out of IM: Helping users makes them feel good. Offering a user-centered service makes us feel good. IM is good and we like being cool.

Amanda asks: are we building community in this academic environment? Evidence-based practice is a big part of what they do at McMaster. They have found from students that they humanize the reference desk. IM makes reference librarians approachable. We’re in our user’s space rather than making them go to our space.

Some academic librarians are bringing other groups (IT, etc.) into the IM conversation to help the patrons.

They keep logs with the personal information stripped out, so Amanda showed us some successful conversations.

They have a lot of repeat users. Repeat user = success

They have indicators on their Web site that tells people when they’re online.

So IM reference services: encourages students to keep coming back, puts us in our user’s space, fosters collaboration, and humanizes the reference desk.

An audience member asked, does it ever get too personal? Are people inappropriate? Aaron says that people get like that at the physical desk too (they want someone to talk to) and so you deal with it the same way.

How do you handle a bunch of IM’s at once? Some people multitask, others tell patrons that they’re with another patron and that they need to wait a bit. At SJCPL, they can transfer IMs to another librarian.

Aaron says that they are answering questions at the reference desk and that it’s first come first serve, regardless of what media they are using to access a librarian. This is a BIG question for libraries who are thinking about IM.