Ask a Librarian: The Immediacy of Chat Reference

So yesterday I participated in a webinar hosted by METRO (the Metropolitan New York  Library Council), and given by Michael Sauers about library2.0. The webinar was really interesting and, while not all of the applications lend themselves to usage in my current situation, it definitely gave me a new perspective and encouraged me to think “outside of the box.”

Social media has really taken over everything in the last couple of years. I remember when personal computer usage really began to take off and people were concerned that people (kids especially) would become estranged and isolated from the real world, only being able to relate to machines. While some of that is definitely true, the computer, through social networking and other communications applications, as well as other personal electronic devices, like the cell phone, have only enabled us humans to become more connected to one another.

I remember reading an article some time ago about the evolution of the cell phone and the Blackberry. Apparently, they were originally conceived to allow people to spend more time away from work. But they have just caused people to be even more connected to work than ever – so that even people on vacation are able to work. How many times have you seen people Blackberrying on the beach?

One of the slides in Michael Sauer’s presentation shows the many ways that a certain library consortium provides for patrons to get in touch. The physical address of the place for dropping in, the phone, an email address, IM, an online form, and chat were available.


This was a revelation to us here in our info center, where we’re always mindful that our members may not be aware that we exist, and if they are, how to reach us. We try to make sure that we prominently display our phone numbers, and we, too, use an online form. But we’re always wochat_refndering whether we are accessible enough.

One touchpoint that we are considering is chat reference.

Chat reference has been used for years in public and academic library settings. Now, we have to figure out how we can make it work for our unique situation (corporate/private association).

One concern I have is that people using it will think, because it’s a tool of such immediacy, that they will get the answer to their question immediately. Given that we usually have a turnaround time of 1-2 weeks for our research questions, this is a bit worrisome.

But, as Michael Sauers said in his presentation yesterday, there are a million reasons for not trying something new. And his favorite reason is, “What if it works TOO well?”

We should be so lucky.

In case you’re interested, here’s a resource for chat/online reference tools.

And, at the end of this month, METRO is offering a class in chat reference.


3 responses to “Ask a Librarian: The Immediacy of Chat Reference

  1. How scary would it be if EVERY one of your members contacted you immediately upon learning about Chat functionality! You’d never get any work done, you’d be so busy fielding (many ridiculous) inquiries.

  2. That WOULD be scary! It would be like an infiltration! A swarm!

  3. Great info you here here ,thank you keep the hard work

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