Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Extending IM beyond the Reference Desk: A Case Study on the Integration of Chat Reference and Library-Wide Instant Messaging Network

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Extending IM beyond the Reference Desk: A Case Study on the Integration of Chat Reference and Library-Wide Instant Messaging Network

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Openfire is an open-source instant messaging (IM) network and a single unified application that meets the needs of chat reference and internal communication. In Fall 2009, the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) Library began using Openfire and other]ire software IM technologies to simultaneously improve our existing IM-integrated chat reference software and implement an internal IM network. This case study describes the chat reference and internal communications environment at the CSUSM Library and the selection, implementation, and evaluation of Openfire. In addition, the authors discuss the benefits of deploying an integrated IM and chat reference network.

INTRODUCTION

Instant messaging (IM) has become a prevalent contact point for library patrons to get information and reference help, commonly known as chat reference or virtual reference. However, IM can also offer a unique method of communication between library staff. Librarians are able to rapidly exchange information synchronously or asynchronously in an informal way. IM provides another means of building relationships within the library organization and can improve teamwork.

Many different chat-reference software packages are widely used by libraries, including QuestionPoint, Meebo, and LibraryH3lp. Less commonly used is Openfire (www.igniterealtime.org/projects/openfire), an open-source IM network and a single unified application that uses the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), a widely adopted open protocol for IM.

Since 2009, the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) Kellogg Library has used Openfire for chat reference and internal IM communication. Openfire was relatively easy to set up and administer by the Web Development Librarian. Librarians and library users have found the IM interface to be intuitive. In addition to helpful chat reference features such as statistics capture, queues, transfer, linking to Meebo widgets, Openfire offers the unique capability to host an internal IM network within the library.

In this article, the authors present a literature review on IM as a workplace communication tool and its successful use in libraries for chat reference services. A case study on the selection, implementation, and evaluation of Openfire for use in chat reference and as an internal network will be discussed. In addition, survey results on the library staff use of the internal IM network and its implications for collaboration and increased communication are shared.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Although there is a great deal of literature on IM for library reference services, publications on the use of IM in libraries for internal communications do not appear in the professional literature. A review of library and information science (LIS) literature has revealed very limited work on this aspect of instant messaging. However, a wider literature review in the fields of communications, computer science, and business, indicates there is growing interest in studying the benefits of IM within organizations.

Instant Messaging in the Workplace

In the workplace, IM can offer a cost-effective means of connecting in real-time and may increase communication effectiveness between employees. It offers a number of advantages over email, telephone, and face-to-face that we will discuss further in the following section. Within the academic library, IM offers the possibility of not only improving access to librarians for research help but also provides the opportunity to enhance communication and collaboration throughout the entire organization.

Research findings indicate that IM allows coworkers to maintain a sense of connection and context that is different from email, face-to-face (FTF), and phone conversations. (1) Each IM conversation is designed to display as a single textual thread with one window per conversation. The contributions from each person in the discussion are clearly indicated and it is easy to review what has been said. …

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