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"Apples and Oranges: A Comparison of Proprietary Chat Reference Versus Free Instant Messenger Services"


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I presented this at Reference Renaissance 2008 with colleagues Lorrie Evans and Nina McHale. Wanna know the verdict? Watch the presentation. :) And feel free to contact me with questions.

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"Apples and Oranges: A Comparison of Proprietary Chat Reference Versus Free Instant Messenger Services"

  1. 1. KAREN SOBEL, LORRIE EVANS & NINA MCHALE AURARIA LIBRARY DENVER, COLORADO Apples and Oranges: A Comparison of Proprietary Chat Reference Software Versus Free Instant Messaging Services
  2. 2. Proprietary Chat vs. IM <ul><li>Definitions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Proprietary chat software products/services: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>, LivePerson, QuestionPoint, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Regional consortia such as AskColorado and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities that typically use this software </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Free IM products/services: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>libraryh3lp, meebo, AIM, Yahoo!, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Are they mutually exclusive? </li></ul><ul><li>Should libraries offer both? </li></ul>
  3. 3. What We’ll Cover <ul><li>Karen: user/provider perspectives and concerns </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Student users </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Staff providers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lorrie: the public services perspective </li></ul><ul><ul><li>History of both proprietary and IM services at Auraria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Detailed comparison of AskColorado and AskAuraria! (libraryh3lp) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Nina: the technical stuff </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Display, implementation, tech support </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Two User Populations <ul><li>Students using the chat services </li></ul><ul><li>Library faculty and staff operating the services </li></ul><ul><li>… each with different needs and concerns </li></ul>
  5. 5. Students at Auraria <ul><li>Auraria Library serves a student body of 40,000, comprised of three populations: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Community College of Denver: two-year community college </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Metropolitan State College of Denver: four-year college </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>University of Colorado Denver: university </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Many students are from other nations and cultures </li></ul><ul><li>Mostly commuting population </li></ul><ul><li>Many low income </li></ul><ul><li>Split between traditional and non-traditional </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Average student age: 28 </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Faculty and Staff Concerns <ul><li>“ But I’ve never used IM or other chat…” </li></ul><ul><li>“ What if I can’t keep up with the students? Will they get impatient with me?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Will we ever get prank chats or time wasters?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Would our patrons be comfortable with this?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ We already have so much to do…” </li></ul>
  7. 7. Staffing Questions <ul><li>Should we provide chat/IM service the entire time the desk is staffed? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it appropriate to have paraprofessionals staff a chat/IM service? </li></ul><ul><li>Should the person on back-up provide chat/IM reference service? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the “triage” procedure when the desk/phone/chat are all busy? </li></ul>
  8. 8. AskColorado at Auraria Library <ul><li>AskColorado began in 2003 as a regional and consortial program offering chat reference service to Colorado residents. </li></ul><ul><li>With our large and diverse student population, we felt the need to provide a flexible form of reference service. </li></ul><ul><li>AskColorado would provide just that, with excellent support from the Colorado State Library </li></ul><ul><li>Proprietary software used is </li></ul>
  9. 9. Auraria Library Participation in AskColorado
  10. 10. AskColorado Use Statistics 2005/2006 2006/2007 2007/2008 Number of questions answered for Auraria Campus students 297 341 486
  11. 11. History of IM Chat at Auraria Library <ul><li>2006/2007: started experimenting with chat boxes in class pages (Meebo) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Very little activity and participation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Spring 2008: Services Task Group recommended investigating possibilities for adding IM chat service </li></ul><ul><li>Summer 2008: Testing and use of IM from the Library’s home page, branded AskAuraria! (libraryh3lp) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Extremely active </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>16 chat sessions in the first 6 hours </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Interface Comparison AskColorado AskAuraria! Great functionality and high level of detail User view is very simple; slightly more cluttered for the librarian, but still a simple box Screen sharing (co-browsing) is possible URLs can be pasted and shared
  13. 13. Access/Integration into Library Web Space AskColorado AskAuraria! Access point is down one or more levels from the Library home page Access point is a box on the home page Students must fill out a form prior to asking a question No information to fill out; user is anonymous 24/7 access thanks to consortial staffing agreement Access available only during times we can staff the service; currently, no set hours
  14. 14. Policies and Behavior AskColorado AskAuraria! Separate queue for academic users Anyone can post a question Acceptable behavior and policies are posted No posted policies; any behavioral issues must be addressed at the time of a transgression
  15. 15. Psychological Aspects AskColorado AskAuraria! The demographic information and the navigation required to reach the chat box may inhibit spontaneous questions Simple screen and high visibility appeals to spontaneous questions Demographic information can be a help to the librarian in answering the questions Some students will quickly write in a chat box that’s in front of them, but not want to click through a page and fill out a form
  16. 16. Display: AskColorado Login Screen
  17. 17. AskColorado Chat Interface
  18. 18. AskAuraria! Patron View: Chat On
  19. 19. AskAuraria! Patron View: Chat Off
  20. 20. AskAuraria! Librarian View: Pidgin Client
  21. 21. Implementation: AskColorado <ul><li> software needs to be installed with extensive configurations on staff workstations to support all features </li></ul><ul><li>Day-long training sessions are offered at library sites throughout the state through the State Library AskColorado coordinator </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We heart Kris Johnson! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Minimum staffing commitment: 2-10 hours/week </li></ul><ul><li>Cost: $300-$1500 annually </li></ul><ul><li>Easy to integrate (link) to; no customization </li></ul>
  22. 22. Implementation Process: AskAuraria! <ul><li>Create account, queues, and operators on libraryh3lp server ( </li></ul><ul><li>Integrate code into Library’s web site </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Web Librarian set up account, queues, operators, and code on Library home page in one evening </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Install Pidgin chat client on staff workstations </li></ul><ul><li>Training approach has been more piecemeal: “Hey, do you guys want to try this?” </li></ul><ul><li>Four staff members volunteered to monitor the queues initially; seven others have since volunteered to join </li></ul><ul><li>Internal training is being offered and planned </li></ul><ul><li>New web page templates will include chat on all pages </li></ul><ul><li>Free!!! </li></ul>
  23. 23. Technical Support AskColorado AskAuraria! Excellent tech support and training (in person, webinars, etc.) through the Colorado State Library Excellent support through the libraryh3lp Google Group; some tech support required in-house to set up and maintain service Established best practices for providing and branding service (magnets, posters, etc.) libraryh3lp still in b3ta, but very promising; any branding is done in-house
  24. 24. The Benefits of Both <ul><li>Including chat box on the Library’s home page provides immediate access to Auraria Library staff </li></ul><ul><li>When a staff member is online, chat box with simple instructions is displayed </li></ul><ul><li>When no one is monitoring the queue, a list of all other reference options is displayed </li></ul><ul><li>For the most part, the pros and cons of both kinds of chat service are cancelled out when implementing both </li></ul>
  25. 25. Questions? AskAuraria! <ul><li>Karen Sobel: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Reference & Instruction Librarian </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lorrie Evans: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Head of Library Instruction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Nina McHale: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Web Librarian </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Slides available: </li></ul>