LibraryH3lp for your I.M. Reference Services

Our Instant Message Reference Service is popular! It is so popular, we are facing several problems trying to keep up with it. The problems:wood

  • While our current IM aggregator allows multiple librarians to be signed in simultaneously, it doesn’t allow librarian1 to field a question without librarin2 seeing it and vice versa. Confusion often ensues when answers are typed into the wrong IM conversation. For example, I might answer the question “What floor are the MLs on?” with something like, “It’s open 9-4 Mon-Fri” and my colleague might answer “What are the Writing Lab’s hours?” with “They’re on the 5th floor”. Meanwhile the students are left to wonder…”Huh?!”
  • Currently, all IM questions are handled by the librarian(s) at the reference desk and often, to avoid the problem described above, only one signs in during a given shift. We’d like to have ALL available librarians signed in to field questions at their convenience whether they are at the service desk or in their offices.
  • In order to provide point of need access to IM Reference Service we have embedded chat box widgets in several library web pages. The boxes appear 24-7 with a small message that reads “tucookchat is offline” during our off hours. We’d like to make it more obvious when service is or is not available, and list alternative contact information for hours in which IM Reference is unavailable.
  • A large percentage of our IM traffic comes from “guests” using our chat box widgets. Unlike patrons contacting us from their personal IM accounts (such as AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk), we are unable to capture chat transcript from our guest users, which can be useful for training, research, and annual reports.
  • And for all transactions, from guests or otherwise, we currently have to manually track statistics.
  • Oh, and did I mention that our IM aggregator is free and our budget it small?

However, do not dismay, I’ve found a possible solution to these and other problems. LibraryH3lp to the rescue.

Created by Eric and Pam Sessoms, the dynamic duo of programmer and librarian, LibraryH3lp is a hosted Instant Messaging service that could solve our problems in the following ways:

  • It allows multiple simultaneous operators, but only connects the patron to the librarian who first responds. Once this connection is made, LibraryH3lp notifies your colleagues that the question has been answered.
  • answered

  • If you find you need backup, LibraryH3lp allows you to transfer questions to other operators within your institution. You’ll be able to see who is signed in and available, IM them to make sure they have time to help, and transfer questions to colleagues with special knowledge and/or shorter lines.
  • LibraryH3lp offers a helpful tool for creating widgets that appear as chat boxes when operators are available and display a customized message when no one is logged on.
  • Unlike our current aggregator, LibraryH3lp captures chat transcripts from patrons accessing the service through chat box widgets in addition to those accessing the service though popular IM providers such as AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Talk.
  • Transcripts and statistical information is gathered on the LibraryH3lp server and can be downloaded to a local server and/or deleted at any time.
  • While not free, LibraryH3lp is very affordable. They charge an annual fee based on the size of your institution.