There has been an interesting thread in the Dig_Ref listserv on the prevalence of Instant Messaging among teens and other age groups. A lot of comments and anecdotal evidence, but few facts. A recent study by the Ipsos-Reid group (not free) suggests that IM is rapidly becoming the most popular form of communication among teens. The study found that 73% of teens used email and 70% used IM - that sounds like a dead heat in my survey book. A few years ago many teens would not have heard about IM, so this is an interesting number. Another interesting stat suggests 57% use IM daily and 97% weekly. That's huge.
What's all this mean for libraries? Not sure, since those high IM usage numbers reflect more s social phenomenon than library use behaviour. However, when you link this IM use with a number from the same survey of 45% doing research on the Internet, then I think you have a pretty compelling combo. This 45% represents one of the most common uses of the Internet after communication with pals - only 1% shop online (not surprising, since the group surveyed, 12-17, do not have plastic). This suggests to me that meeting teens where they live and increasingly do homework is what libraries need to do. Some libraries do provide a robust chat-based reference service, but the numbers are still low. I suspect the number of libraries providing online chat help is similar to the number of teens online shopping - not good. Even sadder is that schools are the least likely group of libraries to have a vRef service, so we are far from meeting the need of this group of library users. The University of Winnipeg's vRef service is almost 4 years old and continues to be very popular - I can't imagine NOT having a vRef service.
I think it is time to dust off one of the proposals I had developed for the Manitobia Library Consortium's Manitobia project - providing a provincial vRef service. Manitobia had 5 components, one of which has already been funded and is underway (Manitoba newspaper archive - more on this another day). I suspect the time is ripe for a 2nd component to get underway. I would be interested to know if anyone else knows of a state/province-based vRef service, or of proposals to set up such a beast.