« First Chain Art Post | Main | Dreaming of You »


This post is intended as a mild rant. Forgive me if it goes farther than that.

On my workstation, I don’t use any instant messaging client because in addition to being sticky, instant messaging clients are designed to facilitate interruption. With regard to AOL Instant Messenger, many of the preferences are means to customize or eliminate interruption: sounds for message sent, sounds for message received, actions to take on message received from a particular user, etc. This paragraph is a long way of saying I don’t invite instant message interruptions on the computer where I get most of my work done.

My AOL IM icon
My AOL IM icon
My 12-inch laptop, however, is a playground of interruptions, especially as far a instant messaging is concerned. There, Growl throws up notices when a buddy connects or disconnects, when my friends (or their cats) return to the computer after having left it, and, when someone sends me a message to start a conversation, my computer chirps the cheery AOL-first message received and speaks the text of that message so I can hear it from other parts of the house.1

What I’m on about here is how someone else has decided to personalize an institutional AOL instant messaging identity. My university’s library makes its staff of librarians available through several instant messaging services. I have had occasions to chat with one or another of the librarians and have gotten the information I needed in a timely and professional manner. The librarians at Ohio Unversity’s Alden Library are courteous, knowledgeable, and responsive. But this is a rant, not a foot massage.

My AOL IM icon
[One] is known by the company [one] keeps.
For the last several days, the librarian(s) logged on AOL instant messenger have been using the icon visible to the right. I despise this icon mainly (but not only) because I cannot tell who is supposed to be represented. Is “ohiolibref” actually both of these people? One of their children? Are these people professionally or personally related? Does it matter? Why do I care?

The other thing that bothers me about the image is that it is ambiguous. Athens, Ohio, is on the fringe of Appalachia. I’m down with that. I understand people native to this area have specific regional customs that manifest in their behavior, dress, and speech. For the last three days when I’ve had occasion to notice ohiolibref’s AOL Instant Messenger icon, I’ve found myself wondering whether the clothing worn by the persons portrayed therein are dressed in the manner of rural Appalachians or if they are in Williamsburg, Virginia, and dressed in period costume. Or something else.

The ambiguity of the image makes me feel that the entire “personality” of ohiolibref is ambiguous and this is not the feeling one wants when contemplating one’s reference librarians. I want certainty, stability, persistence, and singularity in my librarians’ online personae. Is that too much ask?

Plus, the heads of the persons depicted in ohiolibref’s running buddy icon are just too small to see any detail. All I see is a big hat, a beard, a bonnet, and two smears that might could be smiles. end of article

1 So, yeah, if I’m sitting at my workstation I usually can hear who is initiating an instant message and (inasmuch I can decipher the computer-modulated text-to-speech) what the initiator has typed. However, I’m not liable to hurt anyone’s feelings by not being immediately available since the idle on that client won’t change.