Just the other day I was thinking about the issue of annoying patrons via IM reference.
I was playing Halo 2 on Xbox live, and marveling at what anonymity can do to even the most socially responsible human. Profanity, screaming, and racism unfortunately rule the day. Judging by the voices of the offenders, they tend to be in the early teenage range. The voice chat with a nickname to hide behind gives them an outlet for stuff they’d never even dare try in real life.
However, I do take a certain amount of pleasure in the fact that someone out there is dumb enough to pay $50 a year to be known as “CaptainGonorrhea”. If they’re going to be dumb, they might as well give me something to laugh at.
Anyway, back on topic… I got to thinking about how the same thing could easily happen over IM in a library setting, since using IM for virtual reference seems to be a Big Thing right now. Young teens + real time anonymity + authority figure = fun. Of course I never got to actually typing something up on it, since I wasn’t sure if it was actually happening in practice. Now I see that The Librarian in Black beat me to it! Nuts!
She brings up many of the same questions I would have, so you’re probably better off reading that entry. Here’s the potential solutions I can think of:
1. Block the offenders immediately and save a chat log
2. Warn the offenders, block on a second or third offense.
3. Do nothing, just live with it
And here’s the most creative idea I’ve had:
Use Gaim as your IM client. It allows you to have an away message up, but still chat normally. Set your away message to some version of an abbreviated terms of service. By continuing to chat, users agree to the terms. If they still are profane, then the librarian is well within their rights to ignore entirely (denying them satisfaction) and blocking them, the same way we would eventually call the police for an abusive patron there in person.
The idea could probably be developed further. It still unfortunately doesn’t stop the first abusive comment by a user. But without some more advanced IM clients that work perhaps similar to comment spam filters on blogs, that goal may be impossible.
Greg Schwartz apparently comments on the issue in this week’s podcast, which I haven’t listened to yet. So I may be duplicating something, I’ll be checking it out on the walk to work tomorrow.
P.S. Are librarians using IM for virtual reference being made aware of spim? (SPam via Instant Messenger) Some of what are considered annoying or abusive IMs may in fact be due to this.