Many libraries offer virtual reference using chat software such as Ask a Librarian. Often, libraries providing this service do so through library consortia or state libraries. However, instant messaging reference has found a place in libraries as well.
Why might libraries choose to use instant messaging (IM) instead of chat software?
Some librarians find chat software a hindrance to providing services. Since usually libraries partner to provide the service, the user may not be speaking with a local librarian. Technical problems can result due to a user’s firewall or pop-up blocker, both of which are nearly as common as water nowadays. The software can load slowly, present an unfriendly interface and fail to co-browse depending on the user’s connection (which, to me, is the real draw).
IM, through Meebo for example, with a local librarian can then be seen as faster and more approachable. Users are fully capable of sending links and files. Plus, there is no need to purchase expensive chat software. Libraries can easily place a chat widget, such as MeeboMe, onto the library website. A quick, friendly, free service…who can argue with that?
Of course, to best serve library customers, the case could and should be made for using both J