Like renting a meeting room, virtually.

For those of us who work in small libraries and choose to get involved in the larger library community (whether that’s within the county, state, or beyond), instant messaging has become an essential tool. I use some form of instant messaging (IM) on a daily basis, depending on who I need to talk with and why.

Because the officers of the Iowa Small Library Association are flung across a surprisingly great distance (and there’s also the issue of diminishing budgets for things like travel to F2F meetings), we find that IM is one of the best ways to keep in constant contact so that the business of the association doesn’t go by the wayside. When brilliance (or even the sparkling bud of a premature idea) strikes, we check our Yahoo list to see who’s online to share the thought process and see where it takes us:

TH to SW: We need a way to promote ISLA and get people excited about it. Do you think we could hold a contest for a new logo?
SW to TH: We’ll need to check with ILA, and figure out a plan, but sounds like a good idea!
TH to SW: Then, we could put the winning logo on t-shirts and sell them at our booth at fall conference…

These kinds of discussions usually take place via Yahoo IM , but could also happen via Meebo (which is great when traveling – no need to have anything installed for use!). Another way we’ve used IM has been to hold officer’s meetings or committee meetings.

Just recently, the programming committee met to iron out the details of this year’s spring meeting/workshop via Wimba. We were able to use a Wimba room (complete with VOIP, text chat, white board – all kinds of great tools at our disposal) thanks to our Library Service Area office who loaned us their room. Wimba rooms are not free, but if you have a larger organization in your area that you work with you might be able to use their room on occasion. Think of it as renting a meeting room, but virtually. You can also initiate a group chat in a free client, like Yahoo or Meebo, it just won’t have as many bells and whistles.

When we gave a presentation at a conference last year and wanted to feature video interviews of collaboration efforts among small libraries in Iowa, we knew we couldn’t travel to those libraries to shoot footage of the interview. So, we got creative. We invited our interviewees to meet us in a Wimba room and used the webcam feature to record their interviews! It was such a fun format, and for the price of a cheap webcam (as opposed to mileage, lodging, meals and a video camera) we had our interviews ready for our presentation and no one had to leave home! Here’s one of them:

Note: If you've never used Wimba before, you'll need to run the Setup Wizard, which you can find listed in the first pop-up window. (If you've used Wimba, click Participant Login and enter your name only and click Enter.) Once finished with the wizard (just takes a minute or two), go to the second pop-up window (Wimba Classroom Login) and enter your name only. Click Enter. The Wimba Classroom will load and the video will open automatically. Please note: Firefox is not recommended for use with this application. (5:34 minutes) (7:35 minutes)

Next time you have an opportunity to get involved in a collaborative effort, I hope you'll consider the benefits of persuading your group to make use of Instant Messenger.

Tena Hanson
Director, Milford Public Library
Milford, IA

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