Facebook: I was kind of critical about Facebook a few months ago for its marketing approaches and the silliness of most of their programs. And then cruel irony intervened, and I became hooked shortly thereafter, to the point where it’s now become a daily “must-visit” site. This consistent interaction has really helped me to clarify Facebook’s strengths as a networking tool. Its interface is miles ahead of MySpace; it offers users several forms of communication that, altogether, can conceivably serve as a replacement for e-mail; and it’s extremely simple to locate people with a minimum of information. It also is averaging well over 100 million unique visitors a month, and has surpassed MySpace in overall popularity.
All of the above factors offer more than enough justification for libraries to consider how to integrate Facebook as a means of patron outreach. Several public and university libraries now offer a Facebook application that links to their catalog; user response seems to be modest so far, but it’s a useful effort. Chad Boeninger mentioned how he offers reference services through his Facebook profile, which also has potential. Yes, the marketing factors and clutter present drawbacks, but they’re worthwhile risks; the site’s features and amount of users are too good for libraries to ignore.
Instant Messaging/Skype: Instant messaging (IM) and Skype basically offer two different ways for libraries to provide real-time reference services; Ohio University offers both at their “Ask a Librarian” page. The logistics of using IM as a reference tool is pretty straightforward, and OU makes it even easier by offering a Meebo “Ask Us Now” client that automatically connects patrons under a guest screen name. Assuming that librarians have a regularly available schedule to answer questions, it has a lot of upside.
Skype—an Internet calling program—is a bit more complicated, as it requires a video camera. Boeninger mentioned that OU decided to set up a dedicated video kiosk in Alden Library for students to call reference librarians through Skype. (He personally takes calls whenever he is available at his desk; I think it’s the same for some of his colleagues, but I’m not certain.) This might not be such a great option for smaller libraries, but works rather well for OU, and is viable for similarly-sized academic libraries.