MeeboMe leads to reference rebirth?

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Our library is understaffed. Way understaffed. For our 800 students and 70 faculty members and 2000+ annual interlibrary loan borrowing transactions we have one librarian – me – and three (awesome) support staff, plus an army of work study students who each work about 3-4 hours each week and as such don’t seem to have a vested interest in the smooth operation of the library.

Ever since this new "staffing model" (if you want to call it that, it is more like a "staffing accident") came to be with the retirement of the previous director the "reference" services (though I refer to these services as "research assistance") we have provided have been…err…spotty. I’m here, I’d love to help with research questions, I try to sit out at the front desk and make myself available whenever possible, but that is often not possible for long stretches of time. Yet the need is there.

In came the MeeboMe widget. Installed one link in from our library home page for a few months, it saw very little use. Moved to the library’s home page last fall, the widget is now the most frequent means with which I answer reference…that is research assistance…questions.

Do you have this movie? How do I find out if you have this book? Is the reading for this class that is on reserve checked out right now? Are you guys closing early because of the snow? Do you have a color printer? Do you have a fax machine? Do you have this journal online? I can’t get into this databases off campus. Where should I look for articles on this?

It is been weeks since I had a day at my desk during which I did not answer at least one question of this kind asked via MeeboMe. At the same time, I do not remember the last time anyone called me on the phone to ask such a question. I keep Meebo open in a tab all day long. I use the Meebo firefox plugin so that an alert comes up when there is a new question. And then when I walk away I try to remember to change my status to "away from my computer."

Voila! Reference…that is, research assistance…is reborn!