Saturday, May 14, 2005

Lansing PL's IM Reference service

I got to know Kelli Staley (Lansing Public Library) from writing about their blogs. We corresponded and I ended up asking her about the Instant Messenging (IM) feature in their library blogs. She has kindly shared this (via email 28 Apr 05):
In a nutshell, how does your IM Reference Service work (from the user's point of view)?
Users log onto their preferred messaging software and send us an IM. Staff then responds to the question, or conducts the typical reference interview to determine the appropriate response to the question.

If the research involved will take a little while, I've instructed staff to ask for a phone number or email address to contact the patron, and to let the patron know they need a few minutes to research their question.

Where did you learn about IM Reference?
October 2004, I attended my first ILA (Illinois Library Association) Conference. While at the
conference, I attended a session called "Top Technology Trends for Libraries 2004."

Obviously the title caught my attention, but I also figured I'd gain some relevant insight since one of the presenters was Jenny Levine ( of Metropolitan Library System (MLS). Our public library is a member of MLS. Jenny spoke of social software and tools such as, Flickr & Furl.

She also talked about the milestone that Aaron Schmidt ( of another MLS member library (Thomas Ford Memorial Library) had just celebrated. In a short time,
they had logged 100 IM transactions.

A former America Online user, and current Yahoo Messenger user, I was already aware of issues interfering with an AOL user sending a message to a Yahoo user. Once I heard about Trillian and its ability to deal with multiple messenger brands, I thought ... If Aaron can do this, why can't we?

I found the prospect of patrons connecting to OUR staff a real plus. The price can't be beat either!

How did your IM Reference begin?
Post-Conference, each of us that attended met to report back on what we had learned. Our Library Director has always liked being on the cutting-edge in offering services to our patrons. I told the group what I had learned, and got immediate approval to start IM Reference. It was at this point we decided on separate screen names for each department to help target the questions to the appropriate people.

What kind of stats do you track?
We use a low-tech method (a paper form) of tracking our reference questions. We revised the form to provide a column for them to check-off how the question was placed: in person, via email, via phone, or IM. The IM questions are counted with the other reference questions for the month.

Do you measure the outcomes and effectiveness, like no. of enquiries or even loans?
Not at this time.

Does your library have any concerns about network vulnerability? How did you work around them?
Our entire network is inside a firewall and we run Norton Internet Security on all our staff workstations.

Any issues (systems or user) faced? And how it's resolved?
I've found that the "away message" on Trillian expires after about an hour or two. Some staff forget to log out, and instead set the away message when the library closes for the day. I have the library screen names buddy listed on my personal messaging list, and if I see them logged on after hours, I log onto Trillian, which disconnects the library's connection, then I properly log out. (Improved staff training on this issue seems to be helping.)

Can you share how your staff are scheduled to provide the IM service? A bit of your internal work process.
Staff at our Reference Desks log on to Trillian as part of their daily routine. Our "official" statement on our website says "This service will be available during library hours when Reference staff members are available to answer questions."

I have Trillian set up on each staff machine in the department, but we've learned only 1 machine can be logged on to the account at a time. (The last person to log on, receives all incoming messages for that particular screen name.)

Each shift, staff decide amongst themselves who's going to log on and watch for incoming messages. Sometimes, other duties take staff away from the desk, and we log out until available to answer questions.

Kelli is the Department Head of Information Technology at Lansing Public Library. She's also the library's Webmaster, and Designer & Editor of the Library's newsletter, Limited Edition. She received her BA in Graphic Design from Columbia College, Chicago.

She also adds:
I've worked at Lansing Public Library since June of 1990. I started as a shelver or "page" in 1990, then later moved on to Technical Services, then moved on to Adult Services (programming, reader's advisory, outreach and publicity) and as my job duties shifted, I became Head of IT in 2004.

Lansing is a south suburb of Chicago, IL with a population of 28,332 people (just under 13,000 residences). Our annual circulation is 195,794.

My thanks to Kelli. She has a blog at

BTW, as I'm posting this, I'm also IMing with the Lansing PL librarian manning the Adult Reference desk. It's Sat 14 May, 11.40pm as I type this at home, and I'm conversing with a librarian thousands of kilometers in the US (it's Sat 10.30am over at their end). I'll post the interview shortly. How cool is that?!

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