June 13, 2005
IM goes live at UNLV Librarires
The UNLV Libraries IM service went live on Monday June 6 (adios, QuestionPoint!) This happened to coincide with a minor website launch, so in the process of making the switch to IM, I reorganized and completely rewrote the Ask a Librarian section of the site. As you can see, I gathered inspiration from some of the other libraries out there using IM. due to the website launch deadline, I wasn't able to get all the content up there, but it's coming along.
The e-mail solution
Because email was previously handled by QuestionPoint, we needed a new way to receive and route email reference questions to the 12-15 library staff that regularly respond to email questions. I created a web form that sends mail to a library reference Lotus Notes account, and set librarians up with proxy access via their personal Lotus email accounts. I created a 'librarians' folder where I move questions for specific librarians and notify them with an email that there is a question in their folder. Once the question is answered, the librarian moves it to the appropriate monthly archive folder. So far so good. It's a little more time intensive, but hey, it works.
The IM software solution
We're supporting AIM (and therefore also iChat), Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, and these choices were informed by the earlier IM Survey. The librarian chatters (there are about 12 of us) have been set up with Trillian. Getting everyone set up took some time: Trillian installs local user preferences and required that I visit everyone individually. I used our brand spankin' new copy of Macromedia Captivate to deploy three tutorials to staff to get them at least partially set up before I came to their offices (the Captivate tutorials were a big hit!). Our screen name is unlvlibrarian.
The tricky part had to do with the 'hand-off.' Our chat shifts run on an hourly basis. Because we're all using the same three unlvlibrarian accounts, logging in while a librarian from the previous shift is still in the middle of a chat will boot them out. Not so good. so I created AIM accounts for all the chatters (unlvsherri, unlvpriscilla, etc . .) so that we could use this as a secondary network to communicate with one another. So before logging into the unlvlibrarian account, we use our individual accounts to IM the unlvlibrarian and make sure it's okay to take over. It's also good way for people new to IM to chat with one another and get into the groove.
Though we're now supporting IM, IM software will not be made available to library computer users. The systems side of the house has decided that there are too many potential security risks involved. As I see it, this is simply an inconvenience factor for students because no matter when I talk a walk out by the workstations, people have downloaded and are running IM clients to chat with their friends. So it's being installed anyway, though Deep Freeze erases it after every restart. In the meantime, I've provided users with web login links on the chat page so that they have the option if they find themselves in a lab where they can't install software.
Finally, I've added links to the Ask a Librarian service to the various databases that support customized linking. Presence presence presence!
The statistics-keeping solution
One thing about this switch that did concern me was the (in)ability to track and keep statistics, which had previously been collected automatically by QuestionPoint. One the one hand, I really like the fact that chat is 'disposable' and that we can dispose of transcripts and personally-identifiable information when and how we want to (not an option with QuestionPoint). On the other, I need to capture some basic statistics, and trying to gather that information from numerous people would have the potential to redefine my job description! Finally, the solution needed to be easy and obvious, because we're all busy people and don't need more added to our plates than we already have. So . . . we've developed a data entry page using PHP to feed basic statistical information into a MySQL database. At the start of each chat shift, the librarian simply has to go to the URL and use the drop-downs provided (a comment box is also provided near the end of the page that's not visible in the screenshot):
The initial training session focused specifically on setting up and using Trillian, and some basics of chatiquette. Once everyone has had the opportunity to start chatting, we'll be having an additional advanced training session later in the summer. For more information on IM training, take a look at the great stuff that Michael Stephens has done.
On our first full day of service, I had three chats in a two hour time span. Two of the students that I was chatting with each said something along the lines of "thanks so much for offering this service - it's so great that you're using IM at the library!"
Like Linda Richman I was all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves : )