Steve asks “why in the world doesn’t every library with an internet connection offer IM Reference?” Well, I really can’t answer that question, but I can give some perspective on why we don’t use it at the library where I work – and at this point, have no intention of offering it. I, personally, don’t push the idea because there are more important things that I need to push staff on. As Steve discusses in relation to his own library, staff buy in to the idea is critical. Without it, the use of IM Reference would be doomed to failure. At my library, the reference staff is not overly interested. They have done some testing with IM and felt that the response was so abysmal that wider testing was not worth it. There was never any agreement on hours of service for IM Reference, on priority of IM Reference over walk-in or phone customers or on how to handle IM requests that took more time and required followup. The only time that students expressed interest in being able to IM Reference staff was when the library was closed – preferably overnight. For many reasons, nobody is really interested in answering the students’ questions at 2AM.
Ultimately, using IM for reference at our library is not a priority – and really isn’t on the radar screen. The students don’t seem to really care about it and don’t seem to need it. Granted, they might use it if we provided the service. However, there does not appear to be a need for this service – and that is the bottom line at our institution.