Library offers answers via instant message
September 20, 2007 9:03 PM
SF State’s library has signed on to one of the latest trends in communication by adding an instant messaging feature to their website--giving students nearly instantaneous answers to their research questions.
The opportunity for students to instant message a librarian is a feature added to the library’s website in July, but one that really only kicked off at the semester’s start, librarians said.
SF State is the second California State University school to adapt the instant message feature, after Cal State East Bay, and also one of a few campus libraries in California to instant message, including UC Berkeley, and City College of San Francisco.
Jeff Rosen, references and services coordinator at SF State, said student use of the instant messaging feature has been picking up steadily after a slow start. Rosen said librarians are now getting several instant messages a day.
“We really think it’s important that we’re there when students need us,” Rosen said of the new instant message feature, “Not when it’s just convenient for us.”
Rosen said part of the reason they decided to add this feature was because the library staff has been noticing a decrease in the amount of students approaching the reference desk with questions and decided it might be time to make the process as convenient as possible for students.
“Some students perceive the library as complex and crowded,” Rosen said. “(This is) a way for them to not have to come into the building.”
Darlene Tong, head of information, research, and instructional services at SF State, said the program has been promising and said she hopes students will feel comfortable instant messaging a librarian.
“We’re just trying to reach people with the technology they’re already using,” Tong said.
Tong acknowledged that if the instant messaging program gets to be too much for a librarian to juggle, along with their phone and in-person requests for information, they may move the instant messaging to a separate office or they may hire more staff members to work at the reference desk during one shift.
Reference librarian, Laura Moody, said that since she’s started typing instant messages at the beginning of the semester, it seems to take the place of some of the phone calls.
“We still get phone calls,” she said. “But now that we have IM it seems the phone calls have dropped off.”
Moody said that because the system is so new they don’t have much data on exactly how many instant messages they receive but she says it seems like they get about one or two an hour and during 4 to 7 p.m. the reference desk’s peak hours, they could get several.
Marie Blackard, a librarian from University of San Francisco (USF), said she likes using instant messaging.
“It’s very convenient and fast,” Blackard said. “Except in the case of very long and involved questions.”
USF has offered their instant message service since the spring of 2006, Locke Morrisey, head of collections, reference and research services at USF’s library, said that they usually receive about three to five instant messages a day. The fewer count, compared to SF State, can be attributed to the fact that SF State has approximately four times as many students as USF. And Morrisey added that the semester is young, once the paper assignments start coming in, they should be seeing more instant messages.
Morrisey also moonlights at SF State’s library two days a week. While Morrisey doesn’t take credit for collaborating with SF State on implementing the instant message feature, he does say that he demonstrated the program here at SF State.
Different libraries are using different methods for instant messaging. USF provides students with different choices from AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to gTalk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN and Yahoo, Cal State East Bay provides chat options in AIM, MSN, and Yahoo.
SF State offers Meebo, a web-based chat widget that, librarians argue, is much more customer friendly than other chat services, especially for people who are not used to using the technology. Students don’t need to make any downloads or get an account to instant message a librarian at SF State, and although Morrisey admits they’ve had a couple little glitches in getting the technology to work from time to time, the system is pretty user-friendly.
Several students spending time at SF State’s library on a couple of recent afternoons said they were not aware, or only slightly aware, of the new program. Some students said they might look into using the instant message feature while others expressed little interest.
“I think it’s more personable if you go up and talk to the (librarian),” SF State Student Tehani Thompson, 22, said. “But I can see how it could be convenient for some students.”
Fellow student Shrouq Hasan, 20, said she might try instant messaging a librarian sometime. “I think it could be useful,” she said adding that students could benefit from the convenience of asking librarians questions while they are sitting at their desks working on their projects.
Students can access the instant messaging services—on or off campus—by going on to the library’s homepage at www.library.sfsu.edu, clicking on the instant messaging icon on the top right portion of the screen and typing their questions directly into the instant message box. Except for a few hours on Sundays, librarians are available to answer student’s instant messages during all of the library’s usual open hours.
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