Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Your Guide to Meebo Options

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Your Guide to Meebo Options

Article excerpt

VIRTUAL REFERENCE SUMMER MELTDOWN AND FALL SHAKEOUT

Libraries that are looking for new virtual reference services have some nice, affordable options to select from.

Competition in the virtual reference market got really hot this past summer. Recent developments in virtual reference offerings suggest the market is much more dynamic than most of us would have imagined a short time ago. With Google's acquisition of Meebo and its subsequent decision to shut down the chat widget service, many libraries scrambled to replace this tool as their virtual reference engine.

As the person in my library who oversees reference, instruction, and research consultation services, my first thought was that Google would encourage Meebo users to use its own Google Talk Chat Badge since it offered similar functionality, but Google appears to have quietly discontinued support for this feature as well. I was unable to get it to work and found a fair amount of chatter on the web about the issue, although there has been no official Google announcement.

In any case, libraries and individual librarians have been using Meebo since at least 2007 to provide free virtual reference services, so Meebo's demise sent them scurrying for a replacement. The good news was that other significant changes in the virtual reference marketplace were taking place, providing reference librarians with plenty of options.

Both Springshare and Mosio launched new synchronous live chat services this summer, putting them in direct competition with LibraryH31p, QuestionPoint, and RefChatter for synchronous virtual reference. Also, jumping into the mix of new options for virtual reference is a company called ChiliFresh. ChiliFresh is known for helping libraries integrate book reviews and book jackets into their catalogs, but it is now providing a free chat service libraries can use for virtual reference. In addition to these new options for virtual reference, one of the founders of LibraryH31p has partnered with another librarian to start after-hours support for LibraryH31p via a separate company called Chatstaff This article aims to highlight recent developments and compare and contrast the services to help libraries select the most appropriate service in this surprising dynamic virtual reference market.

What's New?

Mosio's Text a Librarian has expanded its virtual reference options to include five synchronous chat and email. Users access the service by clicking on a slide-out tab on the library website. They are then given three options to ask questions - text message, email, and synchronous chat. Users simply type their queries into a box and check the desired reply option. If users select text message or email, there is another field to enter the appropriate contact information where the reply will be sent. If the five web chat is selected, a chat box is automatically launched. The number of concurrent operators monitoring the service depends on the subscription level selected. This product is designed to work as what could be called a "traditional" virtual reference tool, in the sense that there are no individual chat widgets for profile pages or subject guides and only a single reference queue. From the librarian's perspective, one nice thing about this service is that all three communication channels (text, email, and chat) can be monitored from a single dashboard. Another potentially appealing feature of Mosio's chat solution is that it is offered at no additional charge beyond what the company charges for its text messaging service. Libraries essentially pay for the text service based on the number of librarian logins and monthly outbound texts (inbound texts are free), and they receive unlimited email and chat services for free. However, libraries that already have a LibAnswers subscription and are only looking for synchronous chat may find that LibraryH31p or even LibChat are cheaper alternatives. That said, the highest subscription level is only about $2,400, so the service is not exceptionally expensive. …

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