Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chat Widgets Increase Number of Reference Questions at the Libraries

by Stacy B. Chaney-Blankenship, Information Services Librarian

In an effort to provide better services to our students, faculty, and staff, Information Services librarians at Ball State University Libraries have placed chat widgets on the Web site.

Chat widgets are a way for students and faculty to send instant messages directly from a Web page. Widgets do not require an account with a chat service provider nor do they depend on chat software being installed on the user’s computer station. Rather, chat widgets are put in place by the Web page creator. The user, who is assigned a “guest” account by the chat service provider, can interact with the widget provider directly from that page. In this case, personnel at the reference desk are contacted by students and researchers from the Libraries’ Web page.

The ever-popular chat service provides an easy way for users to get help from a librarian, and widgets can increase chat use by putting the service directly within the context of the Libraries’ Web site and making it easy for users to ask research questions.

The Ball State University Libraries have Wimzi widgets on the main Ask a Librarian page at, on the Libraries’ Articles and Databases page at, within the Libraries’ online subject guide system at, and on the Libraries’ MySpace page.

It did not take long for students and others to begin using the widgets. The University Libraries’ statistics on chat use increased immediately following implementation. The first widget went live on the Ask a Librarian page in late August 2007, and the following month showed a 33% increase in chats overall.

Another chat widget on the Articles and Databases page has accounted for 5% to 10% of all chat sessions received at the Bracken Library Reference and Information Desk since the widget’s introduction in September 2008.

In November 2008, sessions that originated from chat widgets accounted for 68% of the more than 400 total chat sessions overall. These chats are received at the reference desk in conjunction with other chat questions being sent from the users’ own AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo chat accounts to our chat accounts, all with the username BSULibrarian and managed at the desk using Trillian software.

For more information, contact Stacy B. Chaney-Blankenship, Information Services Librarian,, 765-285-1101.

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