Saturday, January 19, 2008

i.m. uncertain

Maybe it's an age thing. Maybe it's a style thing. I don't see where Instant Messaging holds a lot of interest for me in my own work. For my own personal workflow, it seems distinctly inferior to email and telephone. I was able to install the Meebo widget here and use it without too much trouble, thanks to a bit of help from colleagues at APL and OWLS. But the why of it isn't apparent to me.

I can see where it would have some good applicability for library service, such as on the library website. Service desks can be in touch with staff workrooms, colleagues at different libraries can collaborate and share info. People could ask reference questions real time. Except that's why we do AskAway -- at some cost. We could use IM during times when we're open and rely on AskAway when we're not around, if that would be clear enough to patrons.

A further complication is that our City policies generally ban the use of IM services, although we were able to convince the folks at City Hall that there were legitimate work-related reasons (such as AskAway) for IM use at our library. Part of our Electronic Communications Policy reads:

Employees are prohibited from knowingly visiting inappropriate Internet sites, unauthorized chat rooms or using instant messaging services through the City systems. ... Designated staff at the Library may use instant messaging services for work related purposes on Library systems at the discretion of the Library Director. These services may only be used with log files enabled and will be subject to regular review by the Library Director or designee.
Thus all employee use of Meebo, etc. has to be logged and I am required to review those logfiles. It's a regressive policy but it was the best compromise we could achieve at the time. This puts a chill on instant messaging. Although the policy is regressive, there's a basis. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure define electronic records as discoverable. Just like email, everything one does with IM is a public record -- and should be available not only to your supervisor but the local newspaper.

You wouldn't hang on the phone at work with friends for non-work reasons. Neither should we be IMing members of our "buddy list" for non-work reasons. Yet "radical trust" is not enough in areas of potential liability, thus management is required (however reluctantly) to take on a watch-dog role.

Symantec's CIO Digest notes:
Given the tumultuous, impulsive state of adoption, it's not surprising that many organizations lack consistent messaging policies encompassing all electronic communications, along with the systems to enforce them. In light of increasingly stringent regulatory and legal requirements, however, organizations would be well served to review their policies and assess their ability to discover, capture, review, and archive IM traffic.
I was skeptical about our overly cautious approach, but googling Instant messaging liability" produces 243,000 hits. Further reading:


gdawson said...

I personally use IM at work mainly to communicate with my co-worker who is at a different branch. She's the sole children's librarian and I handle the YA's. A lot of our funds are handled together, as are reference questions, program planning, and ordering of supplies. The other branch has one phone line, so IM is the easiest way for us to communicate. We send links to books and websites back and forth, along with requests for favors of pulling items or passing along messages.

Yes IM can certainly be abused, but it is also a wonderful tool. Now in my off hours I IM freely with friends and family. But, work hours are a time for work and IM holds that purpose.

Terry Dawson said...

Yep, I can see it at work where there's a good use, such as what you mention. Communication between centralized cataloging operations and member libraries is similar, and there are collaborations among Project Play coordinators, and communication between service desks and workrooms. Some people do not have reliable phone service!

Beth said...

I'm a huge IM fan, so I don't always think about the side of things you wrote about. Interesting to read about IM from an administrator's perspective! Hopefully most people know that what's happening on work time should be work-related, but that's not always the case. I appreciate the links to further info.