August 25, 2006

Chat .... more than a reference tool

I've been seeing a lot more on chat reference, particularly jobs allowing some librarians to work from home providing chat reference. However, I wonder if any libraries are using it as a "team" tool - for internal communications among staff.

My first experience with chat was in the late 1990's. I was on a customer service team that was spread across two countries and four time zones. We were trying to find a way to come together as a team and fell into using Yahoo! Messenger. It turned out to be great. We all had our little areas of expertise and the chat allowed us to pop off quick questions to the teammate in the know with very little down time. Let's face it, the phone is great, but there is always a little personal chit chat thrown in which takes up time. Using chat became the norm for our group. It was also used by other departments in the company. About a year or so after we began using chat, Lotus Notes rolled out a company chat program called SameTime. I admit I was happy to see this. The real downside to using Yahoo! Messenger at work was that it mingled my work and my personal contacts. I didn't always want co-workers to see me online on the weekends as I considered that "my" time.

Since leaving that job and moving on to librarianship, I still chat. A lot. And yes, I sometimes have it up at work, but once again, it's not just my personal contacts. It's also my librarian contacts and one person on my team here. It still has the same uses in this job as it did the previous job. Quick answers to quick questions. If I'm at the reference desk, my teammate knows this through my status and comes to the reference desk if she needs to speak with me (an added feature since I'm the second floor and she's not). But, it's not standard in the library. The only other librarian who used chat has since moved to another position half way across the country... but I can still bounce questions off of her or even ask "do you remember why we did it this way?"

School just started here and I envision this great little way of knowing who is available in case one gets swamped at the reference desk... check out the chat tool and see who is online. A quick "help!" and they'd be there. However, I've also seen chat become a monitoring tool, which took absolutely all the collaboration and creativity out of it. I definitely don't see that as a use of it, but have decided that most people need to embrace chat, at least on a personal level, on their own. When the organization is spread across two countries and four times zones, then they can mandate it's use. And, with good reason.

I wonder though, if any libraries do have groups of people on chat. There are times I know it would beat sending multiple e-mails back and forth. I will add though, that if the quick question mentioned above becomes complicated, we do pick up the phone and call. After all, we know the other person is in their office. :)

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