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Is Co-Browsing Dead?

Recently there has been a discusion of the value/use of co-browsing in digital reference services on the DigRef listserv. Some of the comments talked about are patrons finding value when co-browsed is used in a session. The answer resoundingly has been "yes... when it works!" This seems to have been the concluding thought for many librarians for years. We want to use co-browse and patrons find it extremely beneficial when it is used to share/edit documents and to guide patrons through searches, resources, and websites.

However, because of the instability of the application and its limited browser function many librarians have abandoned digital reference products for simpler and more commonly used (among patrons) IM programs. Using a multiplatform IM program such as Trillion or GAIM or the web-based service Meebo. Since many patrons already use IM it has not been difficult for libraries to tell patrons to "Add us to your buddy list!" We are still communicating to our patrons and communicating to them on their terms using the software they are familiar with. Privacy is rarely an issue because most libraries don't save IM transcripts and patrons don't have to use their real names. IM also creates an environment where you can't get too in-depth with the type of questions that can be answered. No need to worry about whether a patron is suppose to have access to a certain resource or not because you don't co-browse with IM.

There are many great advantages to IM as there are to using co-browse. Can we have the best of both worlds? Maybe. As Caleb Tucker-Raymond points out in a recent response on the DigRef listserv, ideally what we need is to be able to share and interact with resources and documents using any digital reference medium. Currently, that is not possible using one application. However, there are tools out there that can help with this. As Caleb explains:

You have probably heard of OpenURL, the standard for linking to
electronic documents no matter who is asking for them or who owns them.
This is great. Now you can send a patron a link/citation to an article
from the New York Times and he can open it even though you are logged
into Big U's subscription through Lexis/Nexis and he is logged in
through Little PL's subscription through NewsBank. Or, that's the idea.

You may not have heard of SRU, which stands for Search and Retrieve via
URL. It is "a standard search protocol for Internet search queries". Do
you know how you can copy your Google Search and bookmark it and save it
and e-mail it to a patron? SRU would let us do that with library
catalogs and databases. It would obviate the need for co-browsing (at
least the part where we are using co-browsing to share and review
searches), and it would work over IM, too.

So while co-browsing is not dead, we do have more than one option for guiding and pointing patrons to resources and websites and sharing documents. I suspect more options like these and transformations of IM/digital reference software will start forming as the use of mashups increases to create these specialized and useful tools.

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