Instructional Design Resources

Librarians sharing cool stuff

Two weeks with Meebo in our catalog December 17, 2007

Filed under: IM Reference — ellenh @ 4:36 pm

Two weeks ago, I read David Lee King’s post about how they put a meebome widget in their library catalog’s “no results found” page and thought “Hey, that’s a great idea, why don’t we do that?”

Fortunately, I work with a really responsive group of colleagues at the library here at Baylor, who are up for trying new things, so when that Monday morning after reading the blog post, I shot off a quick email about possibly trying this, a few hours later we had it up and running in our catalog.

We use Innopac from III, and the way it worked for us was to put the widget on the Advanced Keyword Search page, since that’s the page that patrons get redirected to when they get no results. At the bottom of this page there was, and still is, a list of ways to search – basically a list of library jargon – and I highly doubt patron getting no results would scroll down there and think “Adjacency and proximity! Why didn’t I think of that?” Having the meebo widget right there for out-of-luck searchers will be extremely helpful.

However, we needed to tweak the placement of our widget first. Originally, we placed the widget at the top of the page, before the advanced search form. And immediately (during the afternoon after we’d put the widget on the page) we realized that wasn’t going to work. People started putting in their failed search terms into the chat form. We got one phrase, one title and one ISBN, as instant messages at the information desk. Just that info, no “hey, I can’t find this, can you help me.” It was kind of hard to believe, but people were mixing up the search form with the chat widget. And these decontextualized IMs were somewhat confusing for some of the reference staff.

So, the next day, we tweaked the placement of the widget. We put it to the side of the search form rather than right at the top of the page. We also changed the language a little – now it says “Can’t find what you are looking for? Ask here for help” instead of “Ask here for help with BearCat.”

What have the results been? Well, aside from those first three random search term IMs, it’s hard to tell whether the IMs are coming from the catalog or not. Since we use Pidgin to aggregate our IM clients, we can only tell if IMs come from Meebo as opposed to AIM, not from the individual widgets we’ve placed around the library website.

However, it’s possible to tell from the context of a few IMs that they came from the catalog – for instance, the one that wanted to know how to search for an individual music score, the one looking for books on a particular subject “but I get no entries found,” the one who wanted to find books on the history of gerontology and couldn’t find any (I know that one for sure, since I talked personally with the student who asked later that day), and possibly the one that wanted to know how to export to Refworks from the catalog.

(Of course, due to Jenny’s post mentioning Baylor, we also had lots of queries from people looking to implement this in their own libraries. Shout outs to the librarians from Yale, Spain, Nashua Public Library in NH, Louisa from Youngstown (I’m working on an email to you), and a few others who didn’t leave their names…)

We implemented this right as finals were starting, so it coincided with the traditional decrease of reference questions, but I have a feeling we’re going to get a lot more, since we had so many right when it first started.

What I would love to see in the future:

  1. a way to put Meebo at other dead-end points in the catalog (in Innopac, if you get no results for a title search, it sticks you smack in the middle of a bunch of other titles, which is great if you just happened to misspell your title, but not so great otherwise)
  2. a way for meebome to automatically pop open a new window when you first send a message so you can navigate away from your original page and not lose your chat. (It looks like some folks on the meebo forums have been working on some hacks, but it would be a great feature for meebo to implement. Unfortunately, they’re not always so responsive on their product fora.
  3. some more training for our reference staff (we’ve only been providing IM reference for a semester now, it’s still pretty new) in dealing with some of the random IMs we could very possibly get in the future – fortunately, I’m in charge of IM reference training, so this could happen!