We have recently been looking at virtual enquiries and how instant messaging has been used at other Libraries. In the previous academic year several of us at Warwick piloted the use of Meebo as a resource for students to contact us by. We advertised our availability via Instant Messaging at several specific times a week. The results of this pilot were mixed, and the potential of instant messaging was observed.
This year as part of a wider virtual enquiries project – we are investigating the potential role of IM as a communication tool. In order to gain an improved understanding of what other Libraries are doing with IM, I sent out a message to the LIS-LINK and LIS-WEB2 lists. Below highlights the various responses that we received.
The majority of people who responded did not yet have an IM service in place but were interested in setting one up.
From those who responded, Meebo was the clear favourite free IM tool. The general consensus from universities using this resource is that it is easy to use, excellent for responding to a small number of enquiries and easy to embed into relevant webpages.
In the majority of cases the widget is located on the library homepage, although several universities have highlighted the benefits from placing the widget where demand is needed such as on subject specific pages, on the VLE, on the Library catalogue or on the Library Facebook Page. The majority of institutions who had set up a Meebo presence on their webpages had not yet marketed the service widely and had received a small but manageable number of enquiries.
A small number of institutions had set up Meebo as a pilot and were considering commercial products that offer more functionality if the trial was a success.
One institution was using LibraryH3lp as a resource and they provided positive feedback. This resource offers more functionality than Meebo (you can transfer chats, save transcripts and have multiple numbers of people staffing the service) – the drawback is that you do have to pay for it, but these charges are significantly lower than other commercial IM services.
There were no real concerns expressed by those who responded to the email – although the issue of staffing was one area flagged up by a number of institutions – including who should staff the service, when is best to run the service etc. Another area of concern included the inability to record or log enquiries if you are using a free service (LibraryH3lp being the exception) and the limited alerts functionality.
Whilst we continue to undertake further investigations at Warwick it was really interesting to hear how many libraries are consdering the potential role of IM for enquiry support. One really helpful resource that was flagged up in the responses I received was the virtual enquiry project. This project involved surveying people from institutions about their experiences of IM. A detailed account of their findings relating to the use of both free and commercial IM products can be found here.