March 22, 2005
Can IM solve my digital reference woes?
I was intrigued by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephen's CIL presentation about instant messaging in libraries: Collaboration & IM: Breaking Down Boundaries. I've been thinking about this for a while, and specifically, the viability of ditching the "bloated VR system" for a much simpler and functional solution. The merits of using IM versus VR have been widely and even hotly debated on listserv such as Web4Lib and dig_ref.
So here are some of the pros and cons (for our particular situation), and my general questions . . .
- it's saves several thousands of dollars a year – it's free!
- it works – bonus!
- no messy setup or clunky interfaces; uses a medium that many/most students are already familiar with
- ability to create customized 'queues' per subject or librarian for things like subject pages (simply create an appropriate and different screen name for that purpose), which with VR software can cost around $3000 per librarian
- it's 'disposable': one thing that really bothers me about our current system is that all questions and transcripts are kept for three months, and in terms of privacy issues, we have no control over that
- much more challenging to keep statistics
- lose the ability to refer and track email questions (a component of our VR software) among numerous subject librarians
As I see it, the cons are easily overcome with some fairly straight-forward workarounds, but I'm interested in hearing how others using IM in libraries have tackled these issues. Any thoughts out there?
I want to respond to Paul's comment here in the post because I haven't enabled comments in my feeds yet (note to self: get on that), and he brings up a good point: "but another thing acting as a con on the IM list is the inability to co-browse." I'm once bitten, twice shy when it comes to co-browsing, and I didn't list it as a con for our particular situation because we're not currently using it.
Theoretically, it's a great idea, and when it works, it's a fabulous teaching tool. But in practical terms, I've had very limited success using it within mainstream VR software applications. I've been keeping my eye on Jybe and have had various levels of success using it as well, though it looks very promising especially if they continue to work out some of the kinks (see Paul's post for more details). This has primarily been because of bandwith issues (on either end - sometimes hard to tell where the problem is), general incompatibilities, and so forth. I want something that's simple and effective, and until I stumble across something that is just that, I'm content to type a little more : )
I heard rumblings a while back that someone might be working on a co-browse feature for Rakim, a great open source VR chat application that I've used very successfully in the past (for a real-live example, see the University of Winnipeg Library's Live Help). Oh and some intrepid library folk worked on Rakoon, a co-browser for RAKIM, at the 2004 Hackfest. Peter Binkley and Kenton Good were part of that group (I'm convinced there's something in the water in Alberta ; ), but I'm not sure if anyone is continuing work on the project. Anyone? Anyone?
Bringing all these great things together in some integrated way will be key for drumming up interest and generating buy-in amongst staff. Then we're cookin' with gas . . .