Date of this Version
Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship (Summer 2009) 10(2). Also available at http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v10n02/sekyere_k01.html.
The rapid growth of internet users has made libraries eager to introduce online services for this new community, in addition to their traditional reference services. Virtual reference service has become a convenient and easily accessible option for the online community, particularly with increasing amounts of libraries resources now available electronically as well (Lou, 2007).
Virtual reference began in many libraries as email reference service (Janes, 2002) with a move to live chat reference as technology advanced. These live reference services were offered through chat software developed in-house or by vendors. Due to the high cost of purchasing and maintaining these software programs, many libraries have turned to an alternative way of offering real-time online assistance, instant messaging (Hvass & Myer, 2008).
Instant messaging continues to be popular among teenagers and college students. A 2004 report on how Americans use instant messaging (IM) states that “more than four in ten online Americans instant message” (Shiu et al, 2004). There are many IM applications on the web, including Yahoo, AIM, MSN, and Google Talk. The downside of having all of these IM application available is that it can confuse libraries with respect to which applications their patrons are most likely to use. One application which helps solve this puzzle is Meebo. Meebo is a web-based instant messaging application which supports multiple IM services. It supports Yahoo! Messenger, .NET Messenger Service, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, MySpaceIM, Facebook Chat, and Jabber. Meebo also has widget (MeeboMe!) which can be embedded in a webpage. This allows anyone to chat or send a message to the owner of the website without having to have an account with an IM service.