My first encounter was with IM was back in the dark, musty, ancient days of the mid 1990s, on my dad’s Prodigy account. (It may also have been an early version of AOL – I can’t quite remember.) I found the mere concept oddly intoxicating – I remember lurking in endless chat boards, watching people I didn’t know from hundreds of miles away have conversations with each other; the process was somehow full of magic and possibility – the ultimate in eavesdropping. I distinctly recall one day where I had looked at the clock and realized that I had been lurking for three straight hours – that crossed some internal line of mine and I quickly stopped doing it.
My next step was ICQ, which popped up in the late 90s, which for me was the revolution in chatting. I was able to have friend lists and was able to see whether or not they were online, so you didn’t have to subject yourself to the mercy of total strangers. Instead of a website you had to go and log onto, the ability to chat was on your taskbar and was quick, portable, and easy.
Now chat seems to be everywhere, all variety of applications. My library uses IM for reference questions, which, as a new employee, will quickly be a part of my job. We are big believers is using any means necessary to get connected to patrons – phone, email, chat, whatever it takes. Because it’s the library’s job to reach out and be where the patrons are, and if you can make it easy and convenient for them, then so much the better. IM is immediate, and immediate gratification is a goal to shoot for in the library world. Asking patrons to physically come in and talk to someone doesn’t work any more.
With all that said, I would like to make it clear to everyone that I don’t use emoticons or substitute ‘u’ for ‘you’. Call me old-fashioned.