What is Instant Messaging?

Instant Messaging became very popular in the late 1990s with the addition of AOL Instant Messenger that was free for anyone to use. Instant Messaging (IM) is a means of communication between multiple people through typing in real time over the internet. Although primarily IM was created for text based chat, now the software is capable of sharing files, video, and voice. Today, about 53 million Americans use some form of Instant Messaging and about 11 million Americans use IM at work (most likely both business and non-business related chatting). One problem has been if one person uses one IM program then they can't chat with a friend who has a different messenger. Meebo and Pidgin are two examples of messengers that allow access to multiple messengers, thus alleviating this problem. (23 things)

Advantages of IM

  • Easy to use and can be useful if you can't go to talk to someone face to face
  • For Ask Us 24/7 you can ask a question even if your local library is closed
  • It's free and can be installed on any computer
  • Reaches a large amount of people since 53 million Americans use this

Examples of IM Programs

  • aim.jpg
  • Yahoo_Messenger.jpg
  • google_talk.jpg
  • meebo-logo.gif
  • pidgin.png


Texting is a form of SMS (Short Message Service) and is basically just instant messaging over a phone (but can be done even if both users are not on at the same time) and usually there is some sort of cost attached to it. However, many phones today also have these messengers installed on them, resulting in a more user-friendly experience. (23 things)

Ask Us 24/7

This is a service provided by most libraries in New York State, but with other libraries participating in other countries and other states. It is web-based so a link is provided on your library website and it opens up a dialogue screen. This allows patrons to ask a question and then conduct a chat with a reference librarian. There is usually a wait involved and you don't know where the librarian asking the question is. (Ask Us 24/7 Website)

Applications for Libraries

  • Of 123 surveyed academic libraries, top 3 benefits for libraries has been: greater presence and visibility, better communication, and marketing/promotion to the public
  • 24/7 Reference services for users who might not regularly use the library
  • Good way of advertising and promoting the library
  • Ask a Librarian available over many media including: text messaging, IM, and email (public library patrons')

Libraries Using Virtual Reference

Syracuse University (Trillian and Meebo, 24/7, email; for Fall 2008 378 questions were asked on Trillian/Meebo)
Yale University (AIM, Google, Yahoo, text, Meebo, email)
Danbury Public Library (Yahoo, AIM, MSN, Meebo, 24/7, email)

For OCPL here is the following usage of 24/7 virtual reference:


2006 - 1768
2007 - 1943
2008 - 2657
2009 - 1286 (low due to technical issues)

When OCPL libraries are closed 9 PM to 9 AM

2006 - 335
2007 - 405
2008 - 475
2009 - Not Available

Problems with Virtual Reference

  • 24/7 Reference was rather unsuccessful for local questions (since most people asked questions about a specific branch or library while the librarian was out of state. For local questions, 46% were answered correctly, 44% referred, and 9% ended problematically; while non-local questions 72% were answered correctly, 10% referred, and 12% ended problematically
  • Patrons did not know that the librarians they were chatting with were not from the area, thus complicating comprehension of questions for 24/7 Reference
  • Of 123 surveyed academic libraries the top 2 problems were: finding time to learn/use the tools and training the staff to use these tools
  • Problem of privacy and how this information is tracked. 57% of surveyed libraries in 123 academic libraries said they were concerned about privacy
  • Cost of providing IM for libraries is free but there is a fee attached for texting
  • Way of measuring for statistical purposes is difficult (public library patrons' use, social software in libraries, text messaging at reference)

Works Cited

  1. 23 Things at the CT State Library. (2009). Week Twelve: Instant Messaging. Retrieved from http://connecticuts23things.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/week-12-im-instant-messaging/.
  2. Ask Us 24/7 Website. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.askus247.org/.
  3. Profit, S. K. (2008). Text messaging at reference: a preliminary survey. The Reference Librarian (online) Sept. 12, 129-134.
  4. Bejune, M. (2008). Social software in libraries. Association of Research Libraries Spec Kit 304, July 2008, 1-16.
  5. Kwon, N. (2007). Public library patrons' use of collaborative chat reference service: the effectiveness of question answering by question type. Library and Information Science Research, 29(2007), 70-91.