Tuesday, December 19, 2006

University Libraries' Use of Live Chat Service Soars

This summer the University Libraries switched to new live chat management software, called Trillian, which collects messages from AOL Instant Messaging, Yahoo! Messenger, and MSN Messenger, among other messenger systems, into one account. Since the vast majority of students use instant messaging (IM) at least occasionally, offering virtual reference service via these already familiar services seemed like a perfect idea, making it a cinch for students to ask questions when they are stuck doing their research.

Many users have done just that, and the results have been remarkable. The number of chats increased by 454.8% to 282 in October 2006 compared to 62 in October 2005.

Juggling questions asked through IM, those asked by in-person patrons at the Reference Desk, and those asked via phone or e-mail has become a regular part of life for Information Services librarians at the reference desk. For the Ball State community, getting answers to questions has never been easier. (Just click on the “Help” button from the University Libraries’ homepage and select Ask a Librarian).

What are the kinds of questions best-suited for chat? Short, factual questions and inquiries about library services work especially well because the “reference interview,” which is the initial exchange between librarian and patron when the librarian is trying to figure out just what it is that the patron is trying to find out, is simpler. Since the librarian does not have the benefit of non-verbal or verbal cues from the patron which might help in judging his or her level of understanding, the more straight-forward the question, the better.

Here are some samples of recent Live Chat reference questions:

· What floor would the DSM-4 Personality Disorders book be on?
· Does Bracken Library have bowling for columbine, a documentary made in 2002 by Michael Moore?
· Do you carry books on CD?
· Is there a coffee shop in the library?
· Is it possible to make duplex copies in color?
· What are your hours today?
· Can you tell me how to recall an item?
· Do you have the Media Law Reporter

Users with longer, more complicated questions may be encouraged to phone or stop by the Reference Desk for personal assistance in real time. Either way, users of Ball State University Libraries can be sure their questions will be answered.


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